The world of a young child is filled with many new experiences and discoveries, and many different emotions. Just like adults, it’s important for children to understand and express their feelings. Emotional awareness helps children navigate various relationships, problem-solve, feel empathy for others, develop resilience, and regulate their own emotions. However, many children lack the vocabulary to express how they feel.
Here are some tips to help children discuss their feelings.
- Model emotional regulation and openness. For example, if something makes you upset, take a deep breath and say something like, “I feel upset because I lost my keys. But maybe I’ll ask your dad if he’s seen them.” When your child sees the way you express your emotions, they’ll pick up your cues and follow your lead.
- Listen without judgment. If your child is feeling a negative emotion, your first instinct may be to reassure them. However, this can make your child feel like their feelings aren’t valid. No matter what your child is feeling, listen patiently and ask questions to help open a two-way conversation.
- Show empathy. Empathy is a critical component in helping your child understand feelings. For example, you can say, “I can see that you’re sad about something. Do you want to talk about it?” You can also use books to help your child understand empathy, by asking things such as, “How do you think she felt when her cat ran away?”
- Give emotions names. Children of all ages feel complex emotions, but may not know how to describe them. Learning the names of different emotions will help your child more confidently discuss them.
- Praise and encourage. When you notice your child discussing their feelings in an appropriate way, offer specific praise and encouragement. This will reinforce the importance of healthy emotional expression.
Children who are able to discuss their feelings in a compassionate and safe environment are more likely to be empathetic and supportive of others, have healthy relationships, perform well in school and work, and have self-confidence.