Helping Kids Understand Feelings

Showing your kids how to name, understand and manage emotions.

Happy family of parents, three children, and a grandfather

When you help your children understand feelings, they feel safe and valued and develop the confidence to solve their own problems. You may even spend less time managing misbehavior. Children who learn how to express and manage their emotions often do better in school and have stronger friendships. These “social and emotional competence skills” also shape how they treat others and deal with challenges as adults.

Helping Kids Understand Feelings can look like…

One child sharing a toy truck with another child

Teaching kids to share

Two girls having a conversation

Encouraging kids to solve problems

Child expressing happiness and sadness

Listening when kids express their emotions

Hear From Parents

Listen as parents and grandparents share how the 5 Strengths are important for their families and why they want other families to understand them too.

Ask Yourself…

There are no right answers. Thinking about these questions can help you understand your family’s strengths.

When kids get mad, frustrated or start yelling, is it hard not to respond in the same way?
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It can be hard to stay calm when your child is having a meltdown. But kids rely on parents’ self-control when dealing with their own strong feelings. When you stay calm, it can calm them. Children also learn by watching and copying your behavior. When you soothe them, they learn to expect and give comfort. When you show others kindness, kids learn to do the same. And when you become impatient or yell, children mirror that, too. Managing your emotions and letting your actions speak for you is one of the best ways to guide your child’s behavior.
Do you know a variety of strategies for helping your child understand and manage their emotions?
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Very young children, even babies, learn how to recognize feelings. When they’re upset and you soothe them, they learn to expect and give comfort. Providing children with a comforting routine at bedtime, giving them a toy to cuddle when they need to calm down, or pointing out the emotions of a child’s favorite book characters are all ways to help little ones understand and cope with feelings. As kids grow, they can become more skilled at identifying and communicating emotions and managing feelings. Teaching them calming strategies like slow breathing and positive self-talk can help.
Do you provide your child with opportunities to build social skills?
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Children learn many important things about feelings and behavior from their parents every day. But having the time and opportunity to learn social skills from other children is equally important. Kids learn through play, so spending free time with other children in their age range helps teach them how to get along with others. In adolescence, time spent socializing can help teens learn the subtle skills they will need to successfully interact in the adult world.

Tips to Try

There are many ways of helping kids understand feelings. Download the Helping Kids Understand Feelings PDF and try these tips:

  • Tell your child how you are feeling
  • Talk about your child’s feelings
  • Show your child how you manage strong feelings appropriately 
  • Respect others’ feelings, including your child’s
  • Anticipate when your child may get upset and help them to prepare 

 Take Action

Once you understand the Five Strengths and why they are important, you will want to take action and explore how you can build them in your own family.  Check out the ideas and exercises below, or download the Helping Kids Understand Feelings PDF to find more about what to look for, where to learn more and what to do to help your child understand feelings.

Provide Positive Messages

Children need to hear positive messages from you every day. Encouraging words and gestures promote good behaviors and teach kids how to treat others with kindness. When it comes to positive messages, how you say it is as important as what you are saying.

Share your feelings: Focus on the things you enjoy about your child rather than their accomplishments. Write a note that says, “I love you,” offer a spontaneous hug or say that you enjoy being with them.

Observe and comment: Show up. Give your attention. Focus on the effort rather than the result. Acknowledge accomplishments by stating what you see: “You did it … you tied your shoes!”

Limit praise: Telling your child they did a “great job” or that you are proud of them too often can actually take away their sense of personal accomplishment.

Reinforce the good: Call out specific positive behaviors that you would like your child to repeat: “Thank you for setting the table.”

Explore Feelings With Games

Here are some activities that you can use to help your child identify and learn about feelings.

Make a face: Ask your child to guess what you are feeling by looking at the expression on your face. Share some things that bring out that emotion.

Mirror, mirror: Look in a mirror and say, “Mirror, mirror what do I see? I see a happy mommy looking at me.” Make a happy face in the mirror. Then give your child a turn to do the same.

Build a face: Draw and cut out eyes, noses and mouths with different expressions. Have your child put them together to make a face and tell you how that face is feeling.

More Activities

Apps There are many downloadable apps designed to teach young children how to manage feelings while having fun.
• Mindful Powers
• Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame Street
• Zones of Regulation*
• Smiling Mind
• Avokiddo Emotions*
• Headspace for Kids
• Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings*
• Calm
• Stop, Breath and Think Kids
• GoNoodle
*Apps that have a cost to download

Books & Stories Reading or telling stories is a wonderful way to explore feelings with children of all ages, especially when accompanied by cuddling or closeness. Many online booklists can help you get started.
For babies and toddlers
Books about feelings
Preschool playtime and relationship skills
Must-have picture books

Tip Sheets Find fun activities you can do with your child to help them learn about things like feelings, cooperation and how to gain independence.

Temperament Quiz Learn more about your young child’s temperament and what you can do to help and support them: babies (birth to 18 months) or toddlers (18 to 36 months).

Printable Flash Cards A variety of child friendly breathing techniques can be found at Childhood101 and Conscious Discipline and an alphabet of calming strategies can be found on Calm Down Flashcards.

The Ultimate List of Free Yoga Poses for Kids. Physical movement relaxes children and helps them to manage emotions. Find printable cards and posters with kid-friendly pictures of yoga poses.

Games help children with self-control and problem solving. Almost any games – board games, card games or playground games – teach children how to follow rules, take turns, wait patiently and deal with losing. Here are some games designed to teach children specific types of skills:
Turtle Time and Other Games
Common Games that Teach Children Self-Control and  Patience
Feelings Identification Activities
Calming and relaxation games and exercise

Explore Feelings With Books

Books and stories can teach children a lot about feelings, whether it’s a picture book or a story you make up on your own. Plus, cuddling with your kids during story time also helps children feel connected and valued.

Label feelings: Help children identify the expressions of
characters, such as smiles, a scrunched face or tears and
connect them to the names of emotions—happiness, anger,

Practice responding to other’s feelings: “What would you
say if your friend lost his toy?”

Take another’s perspective: Help your child put themselves
in the place of the character. “How does the girl feel when
her mom comes home?”

Talk about character traits with older kids: Discuss ways
that the characters show kindness, foolishness or persistence.

Explore Feelings With Crafts

Here are some things that your child can make and use to communicate and manage their strong feelings.

Helping hand: Trace your child’s hand on a piece of paper. Help them write or draw one thing they can do to cool down on each finger. Then when they get angry or upset, have them hold up their thumb or their pinky as a reminder of a way to calm down.

Stress ball: Using a funnel, fill an uninflated balloon with flour and tie it off. Your child can squeeze this homemade stress ball when they are feeling anxious or upset.

Artwork: Have your child label colors as different emotions
and paint a picture using the colors that represent how
they feel.

Emotion book: Have your child select one emotion and help them create a simple picture book of things that make them feel that way. Staple together sheets of paper and add drawings or pictures cut from magazines.

More Information

The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting Brene Brown, the author of this book and many others, has spent over 20
years studying emotions. She is also a very dynamic speaker with many videos available on You Tube. A free
recording of Brene Brown reading this book is available if you have Spotify or check your public library.

Raising Caring Kids This website features short, downloadable online articles and videos, which contain
information to help parents support the social and emotional growth of their elementary age children.

Search online for terms* like …
• Social and emotional competence
• Emotional regulation
• Self-regulation (self-control)
• Relaxation techniques
• Mindfulness
• Meditation
*Add the word children or kid to the term, unless you are searching for yourself.

Talk to a …
• Parent educator at a Family Resource Center
• Doctor or nurse
• School guidance counselor or school psychologist
• Early childhood or childcare provider
• Teacher

For more intense needs ask your physician about a …
• Counselor
• Behavioral Health Specialist
• Neuropsychologist

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