The early years are crucial for your child’s development, as it is during this time that they learn about how the world around them works. Along with their new discoveries, they also learn a lot about their feelings and how to express them in the appropriate manner.
Throughout this learning journey, things can get overwhelming for young children who are trying to understand the complexities of emotions. As a result, they may vent their frustrations through emotional outbursts (including biting or hitting) or have a hard time calming down. Although you may find this situation challenging, know that it is all part of your child’s learning experience in identifying and expressing their emotions.
Name the feelings
Help children name their feelings by giving them labels. “Mommy had to go to work, you are sad. You said you want your Mommy.” By naming feelings, it allows young children to develop an emotional vocabulary so they can talk about their feelings.
Identify feelings in themselves and others
Talk about feelings they have and those that you see in others. “I hear you laughing, are you happy?” Or “She fell down, how do you think she feels?”
Talk about how feelings can be expressed
Lead by example. Talk about your own feelings and how you express those feelings. What do you do when you get mad? How do people know you are happy? Talk about ways that your child can express their emotions.
Resist the urge to punish
Discipline methods such as spankings, time outs, giving consequences and shaming are often used to correct children’s misbehavior, but these do nothing to help them deal with their emotions. By resorting to these methods, children get the message that these are ‘bad’ emotions until they get to a point where it “overflows” one day through a meltdown episode.
Praise and practice
Children should know that it is perfectly fine to express what we feel and be given ample opportunities to respond to their feelings in appropriate ways. You can play your part in this aspect by practicing strategies that will help your child express his/her emotions in various situations. Give praises to your child whenever he/she talks about his/her feelings. This brings across the message that your child did the right thing and that you are proud of him/her for talking to you about his/her feelings.
Emotions by Age Group
For children 2 - 3 years old: Children will begin to increase understanding and use of language related to emotions and will be beginning to label feelings she recognizes in herself or others. For example, “Mommy is happy now”.
For children aged 4 - 5:Children begin to label their own feelings and those of others based on facial expressions or tone of voice. For example, he or she might look at a picture in a book and say “that person looks sad”.
For school-aged children:Children begin to use more complex language to express their understanding of feelings and their causes. For example, “I want to try riding that but I’m a bit scared”.
Some of our favorite books to help children name their feelings:
Ruby’s Worry by Tom Percival
The Feelings Book by Todd Parr
The Way I Feel by Janan Cain