Teaching Children About Feelings
Recently, I encountered a situation where a parent observed a student hit their toddler. Needless to say, the parents were upset to see their child struck in a seemingly unprovoked manner. I can only imagine the disappointment they felt when I told them, unfortunately, this is part of the learning process and it would likely happen again.
It can be difficult to teach kids about feelings because it’s a fairly abstract concept most often taught by demonstrating the right (or wrong) response, but it is important to teach kids about their emotions as early as possible since their feelings affect every choice they make.
Because young children don’t have the vocabulary to tell us what they’re feeling, they show us by throwing temper tantrums and having meltdowns. We first need to teach children the words to express their feelings by using “feeling words” in their daily vocabulary. Model how to express feelings appropriately by taking opportunities to share your feelings.
A great way to help kids learn about feelings is to discuss how various characters in books or TV shows may feel. Pause to ask, “How do you think he feels right now?” Then, discuss the feelings the character may be experiencing and the reasons why.
I often tell parents we model good and bad behavior to our children every single day, whether we’re doing so on purpose or not. If you tell your child to use his words when he’s angry, but he witnesses you throw your phone after an argument or use bad words when you get cut off in traffic, your words won’t be effective.
Often, kids don’t know what to do when they feel upset, so they become aggressive or exhibit attention-seeking behaviors. It’s our responsibility to teach them healthy ways to deal with angry and sad feelings. They need to learn it’s never okay to hit, spit, or throw objects when they’re upset. We have to make it our mission to proactively teach our children how to deal with uncomfortable emotions and how to resolve conflict peacefully.
It’s important we teach our kids effective coping skills because kids who understand their emotions are less likely to act out by using temper tantrums, aggression, and defiance to express themselves. A child who can say “I’m mad at you” is less likely to hit, and a child who can say “That hurts my feelings” is better equipped to resolve conflict peacefully.
At the end of the day, our ultimate goal is to have a child who will be confident that they can handle whatever life throws their way.