Helping your child deal with feelings and emotions


Dear Adele,

Our young children do not seem to always deal well with their emotions and feelings. Like all of us adults, they take their turn at being angry, anxious, frustrated, embarrassed, jealous, happy, sad and so on. Knowing what they are feeling and then dealing with those feelings appropriately, seems to be the issue. Can you help with this parenting challenge?

Challenged Parents


Dear Challenged Parents,

‘Feelings’ is a complex area to deal with. Most of us as adults are confronted with times when we are unsure about what feelings we are experiencing and/or just what to do with them. It is most understandable then, that children too, who lack advanced vocabulary are often unable to label their feelings. With limited social interactions on which to model, children may as well, often be inadequate at expressing feelings appropriately.

The challenge for the parent in teaching the child how to express emotions appropriately is to help him/her learn how to identify what emotion he/she is feeling, how to express it in a nonproblematic way, and how to manage feelings so they do not negatively impact himself/herself or others.

In some ways parents have to become mind readers, sometimes guessing at what the children are feeling by the way they act or the way they look. When they lack vocabulary around feelings, children express their emotions with their body language, including facial expressions. At times their behaviour also depicts what they are feeling, as does their play.

According to a Kids Help Line article entitled ‘Helping kids identify and express feelings’, there are many benefits to teaching children these skills. Children who can identify, express and manage their emotions tend to be more empathetic, understanding and supportive of others. They perform better at school and in the workplace. They generally have more constructive and stable relationships. Finally, they tend to display better mental health and life coping skills.

An interesting article entitled ‘Ways to help your child express their feelings’ by Brenda Richardson suggests several ways for parents to help children express their emotions:

1. Watch for the children’s cues when they are young.

2. Notice your child’s eyes and body language to read his/her emotional state.

3. Talk to your child about your own feelings.

4. Label feelings with statements like “I feel sad” and” You seem to be feeling angry.”

5. Try not to suppress your child’s feelings.

6. Be available with your words and body language. Position yourself at your child’s level, look your progeny in the eye and stay present.

7. Use empathetic, active listening and statements like “How do you feel about it? “Tell me why.” and “Tell me more.”

8. Model and demonstrate how to express a feeling appropriately. Be a positive, calm role model.

9. Praise the child when emotions are expressed suitably.

10. Suggest alternative ways to express emotions such as exercise, sports, meditation, music, art, writing

Feelings need expression and children who accurately identify, understand and express feelings appropriately manage them better in life. Listed below are a few tips about ways to deal with emotions which you can teach your children.

  • Take deep breaths.
  • Remove one’s self from the situation.
  • Ask for help.
  • Use words not actions to solve the problem.
  • Spend time with a loved one and ask for a physical expression of affection.
  • Take time to relax before attempting to express the feelings or solve the problem again.
  • Talk with a grown up.
  • Ask a grown up to listen.
  • Describe with words or actions, what feelings are in the body.
  • Think of different ways to solve the problem.

The Kids Help Line article also encourages parents to tune into children’s cues in their body language, their behaviour and words. It suggests that they name the feelings and identify them. It tells parents to discuss cartoons, books, films and to study facial expressions so children can reflect on the emotions of others. It is important for the parent to be a role model and express his/her own feelings and how the mom or dad is dealing with them. Praise and encouragement go a long way. Listening in a supportive way to a child’s feelings without minimizing or dismissing them is also helpful.

Popular children’s books dealing with feelings include The Color Monster, The Way I Feel, and Ruby Finds a Worry.

I will conclude with a few inspiring quotations about feelings Challenged Parents:

Let us not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it.” — Vincent Van Gogh

Emotional intelligence is a way of recognizing, understanding and choosing how we think, feel and act. It shapes our interactions with others and our understanding of ourselves. It defines how and what we learn. It allows us to set priorities. It determines the majority of our daily actions. Research suggests it is responsible for as much as 80% of the success in our lives. — J. Freedman

If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you’re not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.— Daniel Goleman

Sincerely, Adele

I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.

Photo: Myriams Fotos, Pixabay