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Teaching Young Children About Emotions

If like many people you find yourself at home with small people, lots of time and running out of things to do…why not teach them about emotions!

Feelings are complicated. It can be hard to explain what sad, excited or fear mean. However feelings impact on everything that we do, so teaching children about emotions as early as possible is really beneficial.

Children who understand their feelings and can express them are less likely to have temper tantrums, less likely to hit and show less aggression. Children who have an understanding of their emotions and others emotions, have been shown to experience less stress, form positive relationships, have less instances of depression and do better academically.

So what can we do to help children (my youngest is two and I have been doing this with him since he was tiny!) learn about emotions.

Name their feelings

When you notice your child experiencing a “big feeling” label it for them. Talk to them about the main emotions – anger, happy, sad, scared. By talking to them you are providing them an emotional language to use when they want to explain how they are feeling. Talk about how their favourite TV characters may be feeling during a particular episode or how the characters in books might be feeling. Talk about why they might be feeling this way.

Talk about feelings

Share you feelings regularly. Explain how certain things have made you feel.

Having a daily check in can help children learn emotions and also that it is ok to express them. As children get older you can ask them “how are you feeling?”, but when they are little you can have a chart with different emotion faces on and get them to pick one.

Play games

Children learn through play. So why not use some fun games to teach about emotions? How about “Musical emotions”? Put some music on, have a dance and then when the music stops, someone shouts out an emotion and everyone has to act it out. Or “Emotions Bowling”? Put all those empty toilet roll holders to good use! Draw different emotions on each one, place them like skittles and see which ones you can knock down. Which ever ones you do knock down you have to say what it is!

Teach coping strategies

Children are never too young to learn coping strategies. If they experience anger, it does not mean they need to hit someone or lash out. You can explain to them that you recognise they are angry, but you are not going to let them hurt you/someone else/break something. Explore with them different ways to express that emotion. Take deep breaths, count to 10, do star jumps, have a cuddle….there are a number of different things you can try.

Often parents of young children focus on anger. However we can teach children coping strategies for when children feel sad and also happy (things to do when they are so happy they are getting louder and louder somewhere they shouldn’t or bouncing up and down on Grandma’s sofa!).

Every day there are opportunities to teach children about what emotions are and different ways to cope with them. Good luck!

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