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Published on January 8, 2021

How To Teach Your Kid About Emotions And Feelings

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 January 12, 2021

Signs of Depression in Children (And How to Help Them to Overcome It)

Signs of Depression in Children (And How to Help Them to Overcome It)

Children, just like adults, can be depressed. Sometimes seemingly normal children with no major life issues can become depressed. It is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes clinical depression to occur. There are specific signs that you should recognize in your child if they are depressed. Getting them help and treatment is crucial to their mental wellness.

In this article, we will look into the signs of depression in children and how parents can help them to overcome it.

Signs of depression in children

The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder) is the widely accepted instruction guide that professionals utilize for diagnosing mental disorders. The DSM characterizes a Major Depressive Episode as depressed behaviors that consistently last for two weeks or longer. Therefore, if your child has been “down in the dumps”, feeling hopeless or having sadness for more than two weeks, it should be cause for concern and investigated.

Below are signs of depression according to the DSM manual. The individual must have at least five of these behaviors present for a period of two weeks or longer to be officially diagnosed as having MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). Below is a summary/generalization from the DSM manual:

  • Feelings of deep sadness or depressed mood that last most of the day (for two weeks or more). For children they can present as irritable rather than sad.
  • Diminished interest in activities (again majority of the day or all the time).
  • Significant weight loss (not through dieting), or a decrease in appetite. In children, they fail to make expected weight gains while growing.
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia).
  • Either a slowing of psychomotor abilities/actions or an apparent agitation of these psychomotor abilities. This means that they either have moments that lack purpose and seem to be done because of agitation and tension or there is a significant slowness/retardation of their speech and physical actions.
  • Fatigue and loss of energy.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt every day.
  • Difficulty thinking, making decisions, or concentrating every day. This may be reflected in their grades.
  • Preoccupation with death and dying or suicidal thoughts.

Please note that if your child is suffering from the loss of a loved one and is processing through the stages of grief, it is normal to have these signs of depression. If they seem to be stuck in the depression stage, then it is time to pursue grief counseling to help them along in the grieving process.

However, if they are not suffering from a bereavement or a medical condition that would cause the above symptoms, then they should be taken to a professional for possible diagnosis and treatment of MDD (Major Depressive Disorder).

How to help your child with depression

Depression is not to be taken lightly. Especially if suicidal thoughts are present. The child’s feelings and emotions are real and must be taken seriously. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), suicide is the number two cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10 and 34.[1]

Professional help is recommended if you believe your child fits the criterion for MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). You can take your child to their paediatrician for an evaluation and referral. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, they may benefit from medication such as anti-depressants.

Most professionals do not dispense medication as the first remedy for depression. Instead therapy is the first line of defense against depression, with medication being paired with therapy if the therapy is not enough or the symptoms are severe enough.

Testing

There are assessment tools that professionals can utilize to help in properly determining whether your child is depressed. The three tools used in assessing depression in children are:

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  • The Children’s Depression Rating Scale (CDRS)
  • Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI)
  • Clinical Global Impression (CGI)

Taking your child to a professional mental health counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist can help ensure proper testing and assessment occurs.

Therapy

There are many types of therapy available today. It is important to find a professional that specializes in childhood depression and the treatment of such.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the leading therapy methods in treating childhood depression. For younger children, play therapy is useful in treating childhood depression as children are often able to better communicate through play than conversation alone.

What parents can do at home to help their depressed child

Besides seeking for professional help, there are a couple of things that parents can do at home to help their depressed child:

1. Talk with your child about their feelings in a compassionate and empathetic manner.

It can feel high pressure to sit face to face and ask your child about their feelings. However, going on a walk, playing a board game or playing alongside your child (chose whichever is age appropriate for your child) can allow them to relax and open up about their feelings.

Ask your child open ended questions that require more than a simple yes or no to engage in more meaningful conversations. Never judge while they are being open and honest with you because it will inevitably cause them to shut down and move away from being open with you.

It is okay to allow for periods of silence during the conversations because sometimes the child is processing their thoughts and emotions during your time together. You don’t have to fill the space and entire time with talking as silence at times is helpful.

2. Provide activities that help them relax and de-stress.

For smaller children, there are simple ways to help them relax.

Provide play opportunities that they find relaxing such as coloring, painting, working with Play-do or clay, or playing with sand and sand toys. Again, find activities that interest your child and are age appropriate are helpful in making them relaxed.

3. Limit screen time.

Technology is not helpful in making your child less depressed. It can often be an escape that keeps them from further opening up about their feelings and emotions.

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Limit time in front of the TV, laptop, smart phone, video games and tablets, etc. Any electronics that seem to prevent your child from face to face interactions should be limited. Ask Dr. Sears cites that researchers have found kids who have higher levels of screen time are at greater risk for anxiety and depression.[2]

Provide alternate activities to replace the screen time such as hiking, crafting, drawing, constructing, biking and playing outside, etc. Some children may be so dependent on their screen time as their source for entertainment that they may need you to participate in alternate activities alongside them in order to get engaged in the activities.

You can’t simply tell your child to go outside to play if they are suffering from depression, lack friends and are used to sitting down and playing video games each day after school. Go outside with your child and do a nature hike or take your child to a playground and have fun together to get them engaged in these alternate activities.

4. Promote outdoor time and physical activities.

Encourage your children to take part in activities that especially involve nature such as nature hikes. Do these activities with them to help them engage in the activities. Again this is an opportunity for open conversations to occur and quality time to take place.

5. Help your child when problems and difficult tasks arise.

Assist them by helping them break down the task into smaller and more manageable parts. Children with depression often have difficulty taking on large problems and tasks and find them overwhelming. Helping them by breaking down the task into smaller and more manageable tasks will assist in helping raise their confidence when the small tasks are mastered.

Small tasks mastered lead to bigger tasks being mastered over time. It is a process over time, patience and a willingness to work alongside your child. This does not mean doing the task or taking on the problem solely yourself. Many times all the child needs is for you to break down the larger task into smaller more manageable tasks and for you to patiently talk your child through the completion of these smaller tasks.

6. Help your child reduce life stress.

When children are depressed, they have greater difficulty handling life activities in general. Cut back on activities that cause stress to increase and look for ways to help reduce stress in your child’s life.

7. Foster a positive home atmosphere.

Reduce or eliminate negative attitudes, language and conversations. Also avoid raised voices, passive aggressive behaviors and any form of physical violence in the home.

Make your home a safe haven for your child instead of an atmosphere that is ever volatile (in words, emotions or physically). Make it a calm environment that makes your child feel safe and secure mentally, emotionally and physically.

8. Help your child see the positive in life situations.

Point out the positives in a situation rather than the negatives. Help them see the bright side of any situation.

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Be a model of seeing the positive in life by speaking words that are uplifting, encouraging and positive. Resist the temptation to voice negative thoughts that come to mind as your child can feed off your emotions and words.

9. Believe your child when they talk about how they are feeling.

Listen to them patiently and take their words seriously. Do not discount or minimize their feelings. Express empathy and compassion when they do open up about their feelings. Help them utilize “I feel” statements in expressing their emotions.

10. Keep watch for suicidal behaviors.

Such behaviors include your child/teen researching this topic online, them giving away their possessions and a preoccupation with death.

Seek professional help immediately with the presentation of suicidal behaviors or thoughts. Keep this number on hand and use it when in doubt: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Phone Number 1-800-273-8255.

11. Keep all prescriptions, alcohol, drugs and weapons locked and away from children and teens.

This is a given for all children, but even more imperative for children who are depressed as they have an increased likelihood to abuse drugs and alcohol. They also have an increased likelihood to attempt suicide. So keep weapons and tools such as ropes and knives that can used for suicide out of the child’s ability to use.

12. Spend quality one-on-one time with your child.

Make the time during your day, every day, to spend quality time with your child. You may have limited time and cannot provide an hour or more a day to dedicate to one-on-one time with your child, but you should provide a minimum of 20 minutes a day with your child spending quality one-on-one time together. Try the suggested activities listed in point #3.

13. Be an encouragement and supporter of your child.

Show love and not frustration or anger because of the situation and your child’s condition. Help keep your attitude positive so your child can also see the positive.

Provide daily words of affirmation that are not based on end results (such as a grade or a win) but instead praise the effort they put forth. If you praise the outcome, they will be disappointed when their efforts don’t pan out. If they are praised for their efforts regardless of the outcome, their confidence is built based upon something that they can control (the effort they put into things).

14. Help your child to live a healthy lifestyle.

Sleep is a very important factor in your child’s mood. Not getting enough sleep can cause an entire day to be upset. According to Sleep Aid Resource, children between the ages of 3 and 18 need between 8 and 12 hours of sleep each night:[3]

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    Ensure your child is eating a healthy and balanced diet, getting physical activity/exercise daily and plenty of sleep time.

    15. Help your child foster positive relationships and friendships with their peers.

    Set up play dates for your younger child and encourage older children to invite friends over to your home.

    16. Talk about bullying.

    It can be one of the causes of your child’s depression, so discuss their life outside of home and their interactions with their peers. Help them recognize bullying and discuss how to handle bullying properly.

    17. Help your child follow the treatment plan outlined by their doctor, counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

    Make sure you know the treatment plan that your child’s health care professional has outlined for child. This may include counseling session recommendations, medications and recommendations to follow through with in the home. Completing the plan will help provide optimal results for your child in the long run. A plan doesn’t work unless it is followed.

    18. Recognize that professional treatment takes time to show results.

    Don’t expect results for the first few weeks. It may take a month or longer, so be patient and understanding with your child.

    Depression in children is curable

    Depression in children can happen for a variety of reasons. It is quite treatable.

    Professional help is recommended if your child can possibly be diagnosed with a depressive episode. There are interventions that can be implemented in a professional setting, at home and at school. The key is having a plan of action to help your child.

    Ignoring the problem or hoping the depression will just go away is not a good plan. Treatment is imperative to curing depression in children.

    The first step is talking to your child’s paediatrician to get the ball rolling. He or she will refer you to specialists in your area that can help your child overcome and conquer their depression one day at a time. With you by their side, each step of the way you will get through it together and it is quite possible for your relationship with your child to be strengthened in the process as well. That can be your silver lining or positive outlook on the situation at hand.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] National Institute of Mental Health: Suicide
    [2] Ask Dr. Sears: It’s a Virtual World: Setting Practical Screen Time Limits
    [3] Sleep Aid Resource: Sleep Chart

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