Children often use behaviour to communicate how they are feeling, but wouldn’t it be so much better if they would use their words instead, and just talk about how they feel?
But getting your child to talk about how they feel is not always easy, let’s face it, some adults find this difficult. Recognising the emotions you are feeling, being able to name them and talk about them, and know how to handle the difficult feelings in a helpful way, is an important skill to learn.
Having this sort of emotional literacy can contribute to your child’s overall mental health and emotional wellbeing.
But where do you start? There is lots you can do to encourage ‘feelings’ talk, here are a few simple ideas:
Acknowledge your child’s emotions in the moment
Make sure you include pleasant emotions as well as the more difficult ones
‘I can see you are excited about the school trip today, what are you looking forward to most?’
‘I guess it must feel frustrating when you have to stop doing something fun because it’s bedtime.’
‘Are you feeling apprehensive about your test tomorrow?’
Use as many emotion words as you can, this will help add to your child’s vocabulary as well as teaching them the words for the emotions they are feeling.
Talk about your own feelings
What’s the best way to teach someone how to do something? Show them. You are an important role model for your child, if they see you doing something they are likely to do it too. Let your child see you talking about how you feel about things. Keep it age appropriate of course, and again include nice and not so nice feelings.
‘I’m feeling really nervous about my job interview tomorrow.’
‘I just saw someone dumping a load of rubbish on the side of the road, it made me feel quite angry.’
‘I love sitting in the garden when the sun is out, it’s when I feel at my most relaxed.’
Use books / poems /stories
When I work with children I often use poems as a tool, here’s one I find useful:
What makes you feel happy
What makes you feel sad
What makes you giggle
What makes you mad.
Is it OK to feel this way,
What do you do when you’re feeling blue.
Do you shout and stamp
Or run and hide.
What can you do when you’re mixed up inside?
I read this first and then we answer the questions together. I will talk about my answers first, I find this technique useful as children can sometimes be reluctant to talk about how they feel if the focus is all on them, it’s less uncomfortable if someone else is doing it too!
Here’s a poem about a feeling that we all experience sometimes.
My sister and my brother were fighting on the floor,
She wacked him with a cushion,
‘Help!’ he cried ‘No more.’
She wacked him with another,
This time round the head.
‘Right that’s it I’m getting you’
My little brother said.
‘You’ve made VERY ANGRY
I’ll get my own back soon.
And up he got and chased her
Round and round the room.
‘HELP, HELP I DON’T WANT TO DIE!’
My sister shouted out.
Then Mum came in and said
‘What’s all this about?’
‘She hit me.’
‘No, I didn’t let me have my say,
Mum it was an accident
His head got in the way.’
When children have anger issues it can be hard to get them to talk about it, they often feel bad about the fact that they get angry or just assume that if you want to talk about it that means they are in trouble. This poem ‘Angry’ takes a light- hearted, non judgemental look at this emotion and can be used as a way in to talking about this subject.
I might read it and then ask the child how they would feel if someone was annoying them like this? Can they think of a time they felt angry? Ask your child if it’s ok to feel angry. They might say no because they think anger is a ‘bad’ feeling to have. Explain that it’s not bad but perfectly normal, and then perhaps spend some time thinking about helpful ways to deal with this feeling.
Teaching children to talk about how they feel is not something that is on every parents ‘To Do’ list, but if you want your children to use their words instead of their behaviour to communicate their more difficult feelings, the time you spend helping them to do this, must surely be time well spent.
The poems in this article are taken from my book ‘I’m Not Afraid of Spiders, Poems about feelings’