Helping Kids Understand Feelings
Showing your kids how to name, understand and manage emotions.
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…
Teaching kids to share
Encouraging kids to solve problems
Listening when kids express their emotions
There are no right answers. Thinking about these questions can help you understand your family’s strengths.
- 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
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.
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*
• Stop, Breath and Think Kids
*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.
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
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.
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
*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
For more intense needs ask your physician about a …
• Behavioral Health Specialist
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