“That’s not the right way! I want it over there! Don’t move it!” An angry outburst ensued during playtime the other day when toys got disrupted. There was yelling, stomping and a very red little face.
If you’ve spent any time with kids you know they feel all of their feelings full force. They have big emotions and they will show them when they feel them regardless of the situation. But kids don’t always know what they’re feeling or why they’re feeling it. Inability to process emotions can often show up as anxiety or anger. But two there are two super simple steps to help kids recognize emotions.
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We feel our emotions physically in our bodies. And with some mindfulness techniques kids can learn how to recognize the sensations they are feeling and connect them with an emotion. When they are able to identify how they feel and what triggers those feelings they can begin to learn how to process and work through those big emotions.
Two Super Simple Steps to Help Kids Recognize Emotions
Label Your Emotions
The first step to helping children recognize emotions is to label those emotions. As adults we know that feelings come with names like excited or sad. These names are powerful tools for talking to others about how we feel. We can give these tools to children by labeling their emotions.
To make this process less overwhelming start with the positive emotions. When you notice your child acting excited bring some attention to it. Say, “You are smiling and jumping up and down. You look excited!”
This will work with negative feelings as well. Let’s say your little guy is working on a new LEGO® set and gets really frustrated with one of the instructions. Instead of just saying, Why are you so angry? You can take this opportunity to turn it back around on your child… “Your eyebrows are down and your mouth is frowning. You look disappointed.”
The key to helping children label emotions is to remain neutral. It’s important to simply state what you observe and not connect any reactions to your statements. The idea is to help them connect language to their feelings so they can begin to recognize them and talk about them without judgement or fear of the reaction they will get.
In the angry playtime outburst scenario I remained neutral and stated, “You look really angry. You are yelling and your face is very red.”
I wanted him to know it was okay to feel angry about what had happened. But I also wanted him to work through his anger before it escalated. I told him, “It’s okay to feel angry.” Then I moved on to the second step of helping him learn what to do with that angry feeling.
Learn To Process Through Big Emotions
Once children understand that the sensations they feel physically in their bodies like heat and tears are connected to emotions they start to become less overwhelming. They can then start to learn how to process through what they feel.
There are several ways to work through big emotions and what you suggest to your child will depend on how they’re feeling. You can offer some of these options if your child seems ready to process their feelings.
- Take a sensory break
- Do some exercises
- Do some deep breathing
- Go to a calm down corner
- Draw a picture of the feeling
- Play an emotions game
- Take a walk
- Role Play Big Emotions
- Have a snack using mindful eating strategies
Emotions can be big and scary, especially to a little person. But learning how to identify and process those emotions is critical for future mental health and relationships. And with a little guidance those red faced, stomping, yelling moments can be worked through and understood, making things less stressful for everyone.
What are some ways that you recognize your big emotions? How can you help your kids learn those same techniques?
Amy is a former teacher turned stay-at-home mom and writer. She loves sharing what she knows about family, play and early learning. Away from the computer you can find her spending family time, organizing or decorating her home, reading a good self-help and occasionally pretending she knows how to cook but she usually leaves that to her awesome husband! You can find out more about her at Firefly Writing.
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