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Published on January 8, 2021

How To Teach Your Kid About Emotions And Feelings

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How To Teach Your Kid About Emotions And Feelings

Imagine yourself having a feeling—anger, for example. You know you feel something strong, like a volcano ready to erupt, but you can’t express it. You don’t have the words to describe what you’re feeling. Maybe you’ll start acting it out—stomping your feet, breaking things, hitting—which may not be very appropriate if anger happens to be the emotion. And when people still don’t get why you’re acting so loony, you might develop yet another feeling—frustration.

Children have the same emotions adults do. Adult emotions are the same as emotions for kids. They just don’t have the vocabulary—the repertoire available to them—to be able to convey what they’re feeling.

When they come into this world, children—for all intents and purposes—are blank canvases. It is up to you, the parent, to teach them how to express themselves in the healthiest way possible. The skills you teach them will go a long way in helping them develop their ability to communicate suitably as they grow into adults. That’s why teaching your kids about emotions and feelings is so important.

Now, just because a child cannot articulate what they feel inside doesn’t mean they’re not feeling frustrated, angry, disappointed, etc. All those feelings are in there, ready to come out when they’re triggered. Children just need to understand what they are and to learn the words that best describe them. That’s where you come in.

By the age of two, children can really start to soak things up. Don’t ever think it is too early to begin instructing them how to react with words rather than behavior, especially negative behavior. You can start by teaching your kids basic emotions, such as happy, sad, mad, and scared.

According to the article Teaching Your Child About Emotions, “by four to six years old, most children can recognize and understand the basic emotions: happy, sad, angry, and afraid. More complex emotions (such as pride, guilt, and shame) are built on basic emotions. A child should have a good understanding of the basic emotions before she is introduced to more complex emotions.”[1]

Teaching opportunities are always present. For example, when you’re putting Little Lily to bed and she starts to cry the minute you head for the door, you might want to say something like, “It looks like you’re feeling scared because I’m leaving you alone.” Then, you can sit with her and talk about what she’s feeling—the fear she might be experiencing. At this point, you can also reassure her that everything is fine and that you’re just in the next room if she needs you.

As your child gets older, you can progress into teaching them about more complex emotions, such as disappointment, frustration, and nervousness, among many others.

I remember in an old I Love Lucy episode, Little Ricky was going to be playing the drums in a show. Lucy was anxious and expressed her nervousness. Little Ricky heard her say it and then started asking what “nervous” was. You can imagine that after Lucy and Ricky finished explaining it, Little Ricky no longer wanted to play the drums because he was “nervous.”

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Of course, right before a performance is probably not the best time to teach your little one about being nervous, but you get the idea. Use as many teaching moments as you can.

Here are some examples of ways in which you can begin teaching your kids about emotions and feelings:

1. Name the Feelings

Whenever you see your kid acting out emotions, that’s the time to start educating them. Suppose you’re at the park. Little Beaver is having a grand ‘ole time, but you have a dentist appointment and need to leave. You tell Little Beaver and he crosses his arms and starts stomping his feet. You can practically see the smoke coming out of his ears.

A good way to start teaching him about his emotions is to name the feeling by saying, “You’re feeling angry that you have to leave the park, but we have a dentist appointment now. We’ll come back another day.” You put a name to the feeling, and he now has access to a word for his behavior.

Or suppose that Little Beaver is going to get picked up for a sleepover. He’s smiling, looking out the window every few minutes, and asking what time it is. This is a good time to name his feelings. “Wow, you’re excited about seeing your friend, aren’t you?”

Human beings are constantly feeling, children included. It’s not going to be very difficult to have coaching moments show up throughout the day. Use them to your advantage.

2. Use Characters From Their Favorite TV Shows or Movies.

There’s an excellent PBS show, PBS KIDS Talk About Feelings and Emotions, that has adults asking children about feelings, what they think they are, and how to manage them. It’s a marvelous show to watch with your little ones—it’s a way to discuss what they’re personally feeling and ways to express it.

Another movie, which I think is one of the best, both for children and adults, is Inside Out. In this film, all the emotions have a character. Each one acts out their feelings. Essentially, the movie speaks about the necessity to know your feelings and to be able to express them in the best way.

By the way, one of the many, many things I loved about Inside Out is that it teaches its audience that it’s okay to experience all types of feelings. There is no right or wrong when it comes to feelings—only how they are expressed is important.

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3. Read Books That Have Characters Dealing With Emotions

One of my favorite books is Love You Forever by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Sheila McGraw. This book is so good, I’ve read it several times myself. It’s a heartfelt story that you can read to your children to teach about different emotions—frustration, anger, love, sadness, etc.

As you read the book, you can ask your child, “What do you think his mommy is feeling right now after her son made a mess in the kitchen?” Or, “What do you think the man is feeling seeing his mom old and frail?” This is a great opportunity to talk about the different stages of life and the feelings we may experience throughout and teach your kids about emotions and feelings.

4. Teach Songs That Talk About Feelings

You probably know this one already—maybe even sang it yourself as a child or to your child, but there’s a great song called If You’re Happy and You Know It! This is a delightful song to teach your children about happiness. It’s a catchy tune that goes something like this:

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands…stomp your feet…shout hurray,” etc. It’s a fun, active way to teach the emotion of happiness to kids.

Another great song to teach about being happy, sad, angry, etc. is Feelings and Emotions Song for Kids. It’s a very cute little tune that helps children understand the different feelings and what behavior is typically associated with it.

5. Talk About How Other People Feel

We have Family Night once a week at our house. My granddaughter is 9, and she loves to talk. We usually go around the table sharing the highlights of our day. When it’s her turn, she’s Ms. Chatty Kathy. But when it’s the next person’s turn, she usually tunes out, starts sliding down on her chair, or gets up to leave. The focus is no longer on her, so she’s not interested.

I’ve used this time to teach my kid about other people’s emotions and feelings. For instance, I’ll say, “Sophia, you had your turn and everyone listened attentively. How do you think your brother feels when he’s trying to share his day and you get up and leave the table?” Then, she’ll say something like, “Sad?” And I’ll respond, “Yes, that’s right, he feels sad that you don’t want to listen to him.” She usually gets the point.

Even at nine, she still needs to be taught that other people have feelings too and that it’s important for her to respect them. This is also a good time to teach empathy.

6. Make It a Habit to Label Your Own Feelings

My father passed away recently. Obviously, I felt very sad and depressed. My granddaughter lives next door and has been part of the entire process, from the moment my dad fell to four weeks later when he died.

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After the initial fall, I told her, “I’m scared that Abuelo may not make it.” Or, “I went to the hospital to visit Abuelo and got very sad at seeing him so helpless.” Even after his death, I expressed yet another feeling—relief. “I’m so relieved that he died at home and happy that he’s no longer suffering.”

This was a very hard blow for me and everyone in the family. Fortunately, we all got an excellent chance to express our feelings at the memorial. And as 9-year-old Sophia listened earnestly, she was able to formulate her own feelings, “Abuelo was a nice man. He always fixed things for me. I’m sad I didn’t get to know him better.” It was very beautiful to hear.

7. Explain Other People’s Emotions

Children are ego-centric. They believe the world revolves around them. Egocentric thinking is the “normal tendency for a young child to see everything that happens as it relates to him- or herself. This is not selfishness. Young children are unable to understand different points of view.”[2]

For instance, if your young child happens to be jumping up and down and coincidentally an earthquake hits, they will more than likely think they caused the earthquake. Their young age prevents them from knowing any differently. Similarly, when parents divorce, the child automatically believes that it is their fault—that they must have done something wrong to cause the breakup.

Because they believe they’re the center of the universe, it’s difficult for kids to comprehend that other people have emotions and feelings too. And if they do, they might believe they caused them.

Use adequate occasions to explain how other people feel, and also explain they’re not always responsible for the feeling of others. For instance, in the case of an imminent divorce, you may want to say, “Your father and I are getting a divorce, but it has nothing to do with you. We both love you very much. We understand it’s very sad for you. For us too!”

8. Use Pictures or Emojis

Another great way to teach your children about feelings and emotions is via pictures and emojis. I recall that on one of my visits to the hospital to see my dad, I noticed different little emoji faces on a board from which a patient could choose to express their pain level. That can be done with children.

When they’re feeling something that you recognize, you can show them emojis and ask, “Which feeling are you having now? Can you choose one of these?” You may first want to go over each one explaining what they mean.

There’s also a video you may want to watch with your children, Educational video – Feelings and Emotions With Emojis. Not only will it help you teach them about this important topic, but it’ll also give you some good bonding time.

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Another great perk that results from teaching emotions to kids, especially anger and frustration, is that they will be more unlikely to act out. For instance, by encouraging them to use words to express their anger, they won’t lash out by hitting. At least they’ll have the words available to them.

9. Monkey See, Monkey Do!

Your children are watching you all the time. They’re practically like a surveillance camera. They pay very close attention. So, if your child sees you throw your phone across the room after a heated conversation, it’s duly noted.

Always be aware of your feelings and how you are expressing them. Are you using words or inappropriate behavior? If you’re driving down the 405 and someone cuts you off, do you flip him off? Lots of people do that. If you have a child in the car, remember, they’re paying attention. You’re modeling what to do when you become angry. Instead of flipping someone off, which does absolutely no good, say, “It makes me angry when I get cut off. It scares me because it may cause an accident.”

Final Thoughts

By teaching your kids about their feelings and emotions and what words to use to describe them, it opens up a whole new world for them. It’s like Helen Keller when she finally understood the meaning of words.

In the movie The Miracle Worker, there’s an amazing scene where she learns that water has a name—that everything had a name. After that, there was no stopping her—her world completely opened up. That scene still gives me chills to this day.

When you take the time and make the effort to explain what feelings and emotions are, you’re investing in your child’s well-being jar. If you can teach your children what feelings are, how they impact others, not to mention themselves, you are creating mentally strong children that will grow into mentally strong adults. And as parents, that’s what we all aspire!

More About Handling Kids’ Emotions

Featured photo credit: Asim Z Kodappana via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] ConnectAbility: Teaching Your Child About Emotions
[2] Michigan Medicine: Egocentric and Magical Thinking

More by this author

Rossana Snee

Rossana is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. She aspires to motivate, to inspire, and to awaken your best self!

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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important (And How To Do So)

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Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important (And How To Do So)

In today’s chaotic world, having family time isn’t always easy. It can get pretty hard to coordinate schedules, especially if the family is large. Life demands that we work, attend school, nurture friendships, hobbies, etc. All of those things are extremely time-consuming and important—but so is spending time with your family.

Why is family time so important? Because we all need love and support, and a good, strong family can provide that regularly. For children, spending time with their family helps shape them into good, responsible adults, improve their mental health, and develop strong core values.

There are many positive effects of spending time with your family. My family and I, for instance (and this includes grandchildren as well), meet every Tuesday night for dinner and games. My older son and I take turns cooking. This gives all of us a chance to try some new recipes. After dinner, we play games. And without fail, they inspire competitiveness and laughter. As family night has evolved, the grandkids have invited their friends over as well, creating the need for more chairs but also expanding our circle of fun.

Aside from the obvious fun and games, there are other reasons why spending time with your family is paramount. In this article, I will provide you with multiple reasons why spending time with your family regularly is a win-win. And then, I will lay out some ways on how to do it.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important

Here are six reasons why it’s important to spend time with your family.

1. Provides the Opportunity to Bond

When you spend time together as a family—talking about your day, your highs, your lows—it fosters communication. As parents, it gives you the chance to listen to your children, to hear them out, to learn about what’s going on in their world. It also provides you with the opportunity to use life situations as teaching moments.

Before our Tuesday night dinner/game nights, my family used to see each other pretty regularly but not consistently, especially the grandkids. Our family night changed all that. Now, it’s guaranteed that the grandchildren, along with some of their friends, will be there. Not only do I get to find out what’s been happening in their lives, but they also get to know us better. It’s creating memories they can treasure forever, as well as modeling the Get-Together tradition for when they eventually have families of their own.

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“Spending time partaking in everyday family leisure activities has been associated with greater emotional bonding within families.”[1]

2. Teaches the Value of Family

Taking the time to be with your family lets your children know they are valued—that spending time together is a priority. I know that in today’s world, both parents are busy as both usually working. What better way to let your children know they are loved than by carving out time each week to spend with them?

According to Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., “words like honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage are core to centuries of religious, philosophical, and family beliefs. Use them and others to express and reinforce your family values. Teach children the behaviors that flow from these principles. Use quotes to ignite meaningful dinner conversations and encourage kids to talk about these values.”[2]

3. Enhances Mental Well-Being

Spending that quality time together gives your children a safe platform in which to express themselves, ask questions about things that are bothering them, or talk about their day and things they’ve learned. I know that my 9-year old granddaughter can’t wait until it’s her turn to talk about her day. She usually goes on and on and has to be stopped to give everyone else a chance to talk about their goings-on.

“Research shows the quality of family relationships is more important than their size or composition. Whoever the family is made up of, they can build strong, positive relationships that promote wellbeing and support children and young people’s mental health.”[3]

For children, having the opportunity to seek advice from parents they trust—as well as being able to have a sounding board and help with problem-solving—is priceless. In addition, being able to voice their opinions and be heard—and to feel like what they have to say matters—is an esteem-builder. All of these can have a very impactful positive effect on their well-being.

4. Helps the Child Feel Loved

How do you think a child feels knowing their parents want to spend time with them—talking, sharing experiences, playing games, listening to them? It will make them feel as though they are important, and a child that feels important is happier and more apt to thrive. Setting aside chores or work to spend time with your children demonstrates that they’re essential—that they matter. What a gift to give your child!

“If a child has your undivided attention, it signals that they are loved and important to you. This can be further nurtured by experiencing joyful activities together, as it demonstrates that you want to spend time with your children over and above all of the daily demands.”[4]

5. Creates a Safe Environment

If you regularly spend time with your children, you are also creating an atmosphere of trust. The more trust they have, the more likely they are to share with you what’s going on in their world. As they get older, you’re going to want to know. Negative influences can show up at any time, but if you’ve always been there for your child, they are more apt to come to you and ask for your advice.

Spending time together generates familiarity and feelings of being supported. When a child feels safe and comfortable, they’re more likely to open up. This is one way to get to know your child and know what’s on their minds. Are they okay? Do they need your guidance? If so, how?

6. Reduces Stress

This is significant. We all suffer from stress at one point or another in our lives. Spending time with family helps alleviate that stress. It’s an opportunity to talk things out, get feedback, and maybe brainstorm for a solution to the problem that is causing the stress.

According to Brandy Drzymkowski, “During the holidays, your closest five people probably shifts to family and friends. You may even get to see loved ones who live far away. Good news! This can actually help lower your stress levels. Studies show ‘face-to-face interaction…counteracts the body’s defensive ‘fight-or-flight’ response.’ In other words, quality time spent with loved ones is nature’s stress reliever.”[5]

So, now that you know some of the benefits, what are some ideas for making family time happen?

How to Make Family Time Happen

Here are four things you can do to make family time happen and spend more time with them.

1. Family Dinners

This, as I said above, is a wonderful way to spend time together. While you’re having dinner, you have the chance to discuss things that are going on in your lives—the ups, the downs, and everywhere in between. It’s like having a buffer against life’s challenges.

Aside from that, eating dinner together has many additional benefits. Studies have shown that for kids who eat regularly with their families, there is less risk of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression.[6]

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“Our belief in the ‘magic’ of family dinners is grounded in research on the physical, mental and emotional benefits of regular family meals.” It further states, “We recommend combining food, fun and conversation at mealtimes because those three ingredients are the recipe for a warm, positive family dinner—the type of environment that makes these scientifically proven benefits possible.”[7]

According to Parenting NI, “children and adolescents who spend more time with their parents are less likely to get involved in risky behavior. According to studies done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse via Arizona State University, teens who have infrequent family dinners are twice as likely to use tobacco, nearly twice as likely to use alcohol and one and a half times more likely to use marijuana.”[8]

As you can see, there are multiple benefits to spending time with each other routinely. You can’t go wrong with this family activity.

2.  Regular Movie Nights

This is another fun event, although, from personal experience, I have to caution that choosing a movie that everyone wants to see is not easy. So, give yourselves plenty of time so you don’t spend two hours searching for a movie, and then end up watching no movie at all because the night is practically over. Try and choose a movie before the day, if possible.

Afterward, open it up for discussion. Ask questions pertinent to the movie. What do you think of ABC? Should they have done that? Would you have done something differently? There are so many questions you can ask to spark a conversation and keep the night going.

3. Game Night

This is another occasion for great fun. If you have a competitive spirit, it makes it even more fun. There are numerous games out there—Balderdash, Pictionary, Apples to Apples, Charades, to name a few—that can create fun havoc. All I can say is, on game nights, don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s okay if you lose the game. The fun is in being together, laughing, debating, and having a good time.

In addition, “Playing board games is great for children for many reasons besides the obvious; it’s fun to play games! Age appropriate games can help children to think strategically, solve problems creatively, work on pattern recognition and build simple math skills. They also help children develop social skills such as following rules, taking turns, and graceful winning or losing. Additionally, a family game night provides an opportunity for children to bond with siblings, parents and family members as well as peers. It can promote tradition building and establish a fun routine.”[9]

So, go find your family a game and start having fun!

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4. Sharing a Hobby

If you and one of your kids like to do the same things, do it more often. For example, my oldest son and his teenage son go on long bike rides together on the weekends. Not only do they get to exercise, but they also get to talk and look at beautiful sceneries. They’ve also incorporated cooking into their routine. They plan the meal, shop, and prepare—activities that bring them closer together.

Sharing a hobby is a great way to bring family members together. It bonds people in amazing ways. According to Alison Ratner Mayer, LICSW, “One of the easiest and most important ways to build a child’s self-esteem is to spend time with them doing something not only that they enjoy but something that you also enjoy. There is a special magic that happens between a parent and a child when they share a mutually beloved activity. It sends the message to the child that their parents are having fun, true, honest, real fun, with them.”[10]

Final Thoughts

Spending time with the family is an investment. It is an investment in the happiness, well-being, and security of that system. It can also serve as a way to break out of the daily rut and the constant worldly demands, while at the same time, building a strong family unit.

Even though it isn’t always easy to find the time, finding the time is key to staying close and to providing and receiving love and support. There is no greater gift than the gift of time. That’s what we all seem to be missing nowadays. So, in giving that gift consistently, everyone feels loved and appreciated.

The family that takes the time to interact regularly is typically happy. They know they are part of a tribe, and that’s essential in today’s chaotic world. To know that there are people whom you can count on—people who will have your back in times of need—is invaluable.

Now, go and plan something plan with your family, if you haven’t already.

Featured photo credit: Jimmy Dean via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Pittsburgh Parent: Spending Time Together—Benefits of Family Time
[2] Roots of Action: Integrity: How Families Teach and Live Their Values
[3] Beyond Blue: Healthy Families
[4] Esperance Anglican Community School: The importance of family time
[5] Brandy Drzymkowski: Spending Time With Loved Ones Reduces Stress
[6] Harvard Graduate School of Education: Harvard EdCast: The Benefit of Family Mealtime
[7] The Family Dinner Project: BENEFITS OF FAMILY DINNERS
[8] Parenting NI: The Importance of Spending Time Together
[9] WNY Children: Family Game Night- The Benefits of Game Play
[10] Child Therapy Boston: The Benefits of Sharing a Hobby With Your Child

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