Parents sometimes have that “ah ha!” moment when they realize that children must be taught how to name their feelings. What seems like an easy task for adults, is something that is hard for children to understand. Children often have the basic emotions – happy, sad, mad – figured out. But to truly be able to express themselves, they need to be able to name and understand deeper emotions.
You, as a parent or caregiver, also need to be able to recognize these feelings in your child so you can talk to them about what they feel. For example, if your child says their tummy hurts, are they sick or are they feeling nervous?
Let’s remember that this can be a fun bonding experience for you and your family. Set time aside for family to have fun talking about feelings and to be silly together.
Here are some suggested activities you can do with your children to get started.
Watch Inside Out
The movie Inside Out is a great way to show your children the important roles of different feelings. Here we are in this time and we can feel angry, frustrated and sad, but at the end of it we know there is going to be joy. A big lesson in the movie is that unless you feel the other feelings, you’ll never know what joy feels like. We need the other feelings to feel happy and grateful.
Parents, I encourage you to talk about feelings after the movie and recognize emotion in your child. When kids get snappy and talk back, stop and ask yourself is this a time for punishment or discussion? If you don’t let them have their emotions, they might learn they aren’t allowed to feel that way and then they shut down.
Color Your Emotions
Most kids love art, so this activity will allow your child to creatively express their feelings. Print out this “Where Do I Feel?” worksheet, have your child pick which color they want to associate with each feeling (such as red for anger), and then color in where they feel that emotion in their body. For example, maybe they feel anger in their hands and feet, so they would color the hands and feet red. Once they are done, you can talk about what their body feels like when they have each feeling. This helps children connect sensations in their body to their feelings.
Read a Book
There are so many books out there that allow your child to learn and understand different emotions or situations using fun characters and stories. The Child Mind Institute put together a list of 44 children’s books about mental health that they recommend. Also, Usborne Books, a publishing company that specializes in interactive books that create conversations, has numerous books related to specific feelings that might be the right fit for your child.
Once you find a book, use your time together to read the book and talk about what happens. Then, keep mentioning the character of the book as an example the next time that emotion or situation upsets your child. “Are you angry like Sophie? What does she do to calm herself down? Can you try that too?”
Talk During Dinnertime
Dinnertime is a great opportunity to have conversations about feelings from the day. Some questions you can ask are: What are some things that make you feel nervous and scared? How does your body feel when you are nervous and scared?
Or the conversation could be as simple as “Today I was feeling…” and each family member picks a feeling and discusses why they felt that way.
“Today I was feeling nervous because I was learning to ride my bike.” or “Today I was feeling loved because you brought me breakfast in bed.”
Find Another Word with Wheel of Emotions
When you want to dig deeper into a feeling your child is experiencing, you can use this Wheel of Emotions handout with your child to help them find the right word to express what they are feeling. Think of it as a kid-friendly emotions thesaurus.
To use this, you could pull out this printed sheet, point to the correct part of the wheel and say something like, “I see that you are distracted. Is it because you are stressed, confused, hesitant to do your school work?”
Work on Coping Skills
Coping skills are an important tool to work through emotions like worry. It provides distraction from the worry.
These Worry Coping Cards will get you started on your discussion about coping: Each card describes a skill for managing worry, such as get moving, stop and listen, journaling. The front of the card has a fun picture to help your child remember the skill. The back has a description of the skill. There is even a blank card where you can write in your own suggestion for coping.
Play a Game of Candy Land
Watch this video about how to incorporate the popular children’s game, Candy Land, into your discussions about feelings.
You could also play a game of Feelings Bingo to work on developing feelings vocabulary, recognition, and expression. There are so many versions available online. Click here to see several free, or affordable, options.
Practice Daily Affirmations
This activity is great for all ages. Grab a set of daily affirmation cards to increase confidence and a positive attitude. Your child picks a card, reads it, and then discuss how to achieve that affirmation throughout the day. For older kids, you can have them write the affirmation down and look at it. They can list three things they can do that day.
If you don’t want to purchase a card set, you can create your own using cardstock. You can search the Internet for affirmations, such as: “I have a positive attitude. I’m talented. I’m happy. I am proud of myself.”
Last Tip — Take a Time Out
When your child’s emotions run high, try to keep your own feelings in check. Their anxiety and other emotions can be contagious so take a time out to ground yourself and come back to talk to your child in a loving, soft tone. Five minutes of time to yourself isn’t going to ruin your family, but it will give you time to calm down so you can be your best you.
Remember that you are doing a good job. It is a stressful time for all of us. Be sure to take care of yourself.