Take Time to Talk About Feelings With Your Child Every Day
It can be something you work into a bus, car, or train ride with your child. Ask her what she feels like today, and tell her how you are feeling. Maybe you feel excited to have a day off to spend with her, or you’re nervous about a new job. Just by talking about emotions with your child from an early age you can help her identify those feelings in herself and make her feel comfortable talking about them. New York City-based teacher Anne Harlam suggests creating a sign or poster with your child with a choice of faces, like angry, happy, sad and calm. Your child can point to the poster when talking about how she’s feeling for extra practice identifying her feelings.
Help Your Child Learn New Words for Feelings
For example, read a book like Llama Llama Mad at Mama, by Anna Dewdney, with your child. Use the book to introduce new words like "frustrated," "bored," or "angry" when talking with your child about how the baby llama feels while grocery shopping. When reading with your child, try to remember to point out the how the pictures show feelings you’re talking about. This can help your child learn new words for feelings and connect them with expressions and body language. The llama’s tantrum also shows your child that actions are caused by feelings, something you can point out to your child as you read the story. For more age-appropriate book examples, see our reading list.
Don't Worry About Using Words for Feelings That Your Child May Not Understand
Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab Director Maurice Elias says that hearing you talk about times you are excited, proud, disappointed or frustrated will help her learn how to connect feelings with words. By the time your child starts school, she should be able to speak about her feelings with more words than sad, mad, or happy.
Let Your Child Know Her Feelings Are Important
It can be tempting to tell your child to “stop overreacting” or “stop getting upset” when she gets frustrated over something that seems small to you -- like struggling with a toy or puzzle. Treating your child’s feelings like they’re not important can make her feel bad about her emotions or her reactions. Instead, validate her feelings by saying something like, “It can be frustrating when that toy falls apart, can’t it? I get frustrated sometimes too. Let’s see if we can fix it together.” This will help your child learn that her feelings matter and that you’re there to help.
Take Some Time to Talk About How You Are Feeling During the Day
Tom Hoerr, who is Head of School at New City School in St. Louis, Missouri, suggests finding opportunities to reflect on your day and describe how you felt to your child. It could be while you’re brushing your teeth, or tucking your child in at night. Perhaps you were happy when an old friend sent an email, or upset by a customer at work. Using time to reflect and explain to your child your thoughts and actions allows your child to see how other people feel as well.
Teach Your Child It's O.K. To Ask For Help
Part of self-awareness is knowing your challenges, and asking for help when it’s needed is showing self-awareness. Author and education consultant Faye de Muyshondt recommends telling your child, “If you need help, say, ‘Help,’ and I’ll be there to jump in,” but until your child asks, try to stand back. The lesson is in struggling and understanding when to seek assistance.