Young children experience many of the same strong emotions adults do. While your child may feel sad, angry, anxious, happy, frustrated or embarrassed, she may not yet possess the skills to connect those powerful emotions with the words to express them constructively, according to Michigan State University Extension Office. Instead, your child might express her emotions by acting them out in physical or explosive ways. Or, she might be so overwhelmed and confused by her feelings that she decides to keep them bottled up. Helping your child deal with expressing her emotions can provide communication skills for a lifetime.
Help your child learn to identify emotions by using her words. This approach will help your child build a vocabulary aimed at expressing feelings, recommends Michigan State University Extension Office. You might say, “I can tell by your smile that your birthday party made you feel happy," or, "I see that you're angry because your toy broke." In another situation, you might say, "You're feeling jealous that your older brother got a new computer. When you turn 16, you'll get one too." Teach your child to recognize emotions in others by saying things like, "Do you remember how happy Grandma was when you visited her?" or, "Your big brother is feeling sad, because his best friend moved away."
Read books to your little one that will help her practice identifying feelings in fictional characters, which will help her gain an understanding of what feelings mean, explains The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning at Vanderbilt University. Discuss the emotions that different characters are feeling in the context of the stories. You might say, "Dorothy becomes scared when she sees the Wicked Witch of the West. What makes you feel scared?" or "Peter Pan becomes so happy when he flies. You feel that happy when you're ice skating." You might point to a picture and ask, "What do you think Little Red Riding Hood is feeling when she sees the Big, Bad Wolf?"
Be a role model for healthy self-expression. Share your feelings with your child, both positive and negative ones. You might say, "I feel excited that we're going to the amusement park this weekend," or, "I feel frustrated when we're stuck in traffic, because you'll be late for school." Share your negative feelings to show that it's possible to have angry feelings without acting them out. You might say, "Mommy is feeling angry that your older brother stayed out past his curfew, so I'm going to take a time-out in my room until I cool off."
Encourage your child to draw faces of herself registering various emotions, which will help her reflect on what triggers those different feelings, recommends Education.com. She might draw a picture of her sad face and write, "I feel sad when I can't play with my puppy while I'm at school," or underneath her frightened face, she might write, "I feel scared during thunderstorms." Ask her to draw faces of family members. She might draw a picture of an angry face and write, "Daddy feels mad when he can't find his car keys," or an embarrassed face and write, "Mommy feels embarrassed when she leaves her wallet at home and we need to pay for something."
Accept all of your child's feelings, even the negative ones. Avoid saying, "There's no reason for you to be so upset," or, "You're wrong to feel that way." You'll be sending the harmful message that feelings are bad and should be hidden, according to "Parenting With Peter" columnist, Peter Herbst, on the NJ.com website. If your child is led to believe certain feelings are wrong, he'll start repressing them instead of learning to skillfully express them. Instead of telling your child that it's wrong to feel a certain emotion, you might say, "I don't blame you for being mad that your sister broke your toy, but it's not OK to hit her."
Praise your child after he expresses a feeling instead of acting them out, recommends Vanderbilt University. You might say, "I'm so proud of you tor telling me you're mad at your sister instead of yelling at her."