Helping Children Identify FeelingsAug 06, 2020 07:59AM ● By Melanie VanderPol-Bailey, LCSW-PIP, River Counseling Services
So often we tell children to “use your words” when they appear frustrated and distraught. As adults, we even struggle in moments to use our words, or even worse, the words we use become words we regret. Children’s feelings and language develop. It may be almost impossible in moments for a child to verbalize what they are experiencing internally.
Each child is beautifully and wonderfully made, with differing needs and ways to communicate how they feel. They look to us, the grown-ups, on how to demonstrate and verbalize feelings such as happiness, sadness, anger and fear. We need to lead by example on how these common feelings are expressed. We cannot scream and yell when we are upset and expect them to be calm and “use their words.” Nor can we expect them to talk about their sadness if we bury sad feelings when we are hurting.
An easy way to shift into modeling desired behavior is to simply empathize and reflect on how you think a child is feeling. Say, “it looks like you are feeling upset, do I have that right?” This can either validate or give the child permission to correct you and share that they are sad, or not upset, for example. Then together there is a process to figuring the feeling out. There can still be a consequence to the child’s behavior, but there is huge value in having the child identify what they are experiencing, helping them and moving forward.
Another way is to ask a child to think of a word or even a color that matches what they are feeling. Modeling how to be in relationship with each other with all of our feelings is one of the greatest gifts we can give to a child.