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How Do I Talk About Emotions With Kids?

Hannah Hopper, LPC, NCC

Emotions can be hard to talk about, no matter what age you’re at. And particularly when kids are growing up, they can feel such a range of emotions, all while lacking the vocabulary to explain what they’re feeling. If kids struggle to verbally communicate with their parents about what’s going on inside, they can be left feeling confused and defeated. Kids experience the same complex emotions that adults do; one way to build connection is through teaching kids about their emotions and giving them the language to explain how they’re feeling. 

Affirm feelings in your child

When you notice your child having big feelings, point this out and affirm that they’re allowed to experience these emotions. For example, sometimes kids cry from a fall more from the fear of having fallen rather than the physical wound. Instead of saying something like “you’re okay, stand up” when your child is crying from a fall, try saying “that was a scary fall wasn’t it?” or “I’m right here, it’s ok if you need to cry.” Through accepting your child’s feelings, you’re helping them feel seen and understood. This kind of affirmation can take away shame in expressing emotions and will teach your child that there’s enough space for them. 

Model what you want them to learn

Along with being supportive of the emotions your child shares, modeling an understanding of your own emotions helps children to learn about theirs. Parents are their children’s first teachers, so they look to parents to learn how to cope with and soothe their own feelings. If you can model how to practice self-care, how to talk about your emotions, and how to appropriately express both sadness and joy, you are helping to provide your kids with examples of how to name their feelings, and ultimately to have better mental health.  

Use practical tools for talking about emotions 

Emotion faces – this sheet will help children identify the word and facial expression for what they’re feeling. It can be hard for kids to name what they’re feeling, but they’re able to quickly understand facial expressions and what these mean. The labels under the facial expression will give them language to name what’s going on inside. 

Where I feel – This is an activity that you can do with your child to help them identify where they feel emotions in their body. Have a cutout of a person’s body, and using different colored crayons, have them color the cutout based on where they feel each emotion. For example, red might be the color for anger, and your child might color the fists or the face for where they feel anger. This cutout can be a reference point for the future too when your child is feeling an emotion in their body. 

Emotion thermometers – After learning the language to describe emotions and noticing where they show up in the body, emotion thermometers can be a way for your little one to show the intensity of the emotion. Instead of needing to scream to show how worried they’re feeling, have your child point to a thermometer and pick what “temperature” they’re feeling with each emotion.  

If you and you would like to get parenting support and find more ways to talk about emotions with your child, counseling is a good option. If you’d like to schedule a counseling session with Symmetry Counseling, you can browse our therapist bios to find someone that’s the right fit for you. We also have intake specialists to find a therapist that specializes in what you’re wanting to work through. You can also contact Symmetry Counseling today by calling 312-578-9990 to get matched with someone. 

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