Jake (6 years) was playing with his lego set, feeling very proud of his lego city, when Sallie (4 years) comes along and begins to “add” to his creation. Jake rebels by ripping the legos from Sallie and Sallie in turn cries loudly and stomps her feet. At that moment, mom comes in the room to find both children unhappy and frustrated with one another.
Any parent or caretaker of children has experienced this scenario. The mother here has to make a choice of how to respond in the best way. She can either a) punish Sallie for not asking Jake to play first, b) punish Jake for grabbing the lego and not sharing, c) punish both children by yelling and sending them to their rooms, or d) take this opportunity to teach both children about their own feelings and the feelings of the other child. Most experts will agree that the last choice- teach both children about their own feelings and the feelings of the other child- is the best option.
Teaching your children about their feelings is one of the most important gifts you can give your child. Children who can identify their feelings and know how to express their feelings in an acceptable way will be more successful in school, show more empathy towards their peers, exhibit less depression and anxiety, and develop skills for healthy relationships in the future.
Here are some ways to teach your children about feelings:
· Use everyday opportunities- In the scenario above, the mother can talk with both Sallie and Jake about how they felt during the moment when their toy was taken and help them talk about how they would feel if they were the other person.
· Give the feelings words and encourage them to use their words when they have that feeling. For example, if your child goes to a new classroom and you notice they are hiding behind your leg, tell them you notice they are feeling SHY and that sometimes you feel shy when you don’t know anyone. This is also a good time to teach the child ways to make friends.
· Point out the feelings of other people when you are in public. For example, if you are at the mall and notice another child crying, point out how they feel SAD.
· Activities are a fun way to teach your child about feelings. One fun activity is to get round paper plates and art materials and make different faces- happy, sad, mad, etc.
· Teach appropriate expressions- If your child is acting out when they are angry, be sure to label their feeling as well as give them an alternate way to express their feeling, such as through art, music, exercise, deep breathing, or talking to someone.
Your child can experience a wide range of emotions throughout their days and weeks. Be sure to stay in tune to these feelings and use those opportunities to help your child become self-aware, empathetic, and in control of their emotional life.
Kim Peterson, MA, LPC, RPT
Assistant Clinical Director, MedCare Pediatric Rehab Center Spring
Program Manager, MedCare Centers for Counseling and Play Therapy