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Home > Medical Services > Employee Assistance Program (EAP) > Employee Resources & Support > EAP Educational Articles > How to Talk to Children About Feelings
Discussing our feelings is hard for adults, let alone children, who are on the verge of understanding the abstract concept of emotions. Children can struggle to discuss how they feel, especially when their feelings are more complex than happy, sad, or mad. However, talking about their feelings is essential for future prosocial behaviors and social skills. Therefore, here are some tips to help you talk to children about their feelings and expand their emotional vocabulary.
First, create a list with your child of all the possible feelings an individual can feel. Write this list down, make a chart, or turn it into feeling cards. For each broad category of emotion, such as sad, mad, or happy, consider all the emotions that are associated with or linked to that emotion. For example, if you are listing sad feelings, you might include lonely, disappointed, upset, and discouraged. Feel free to look up some emotions but try to come up with as many as you can with your child first. Having your child list different emotions bolsters their skill to identify them and recognize what they mean. If you add other emotion terms from outside sources, make sure that your child understands what the feeling means and looks like first. Also, you can always add to this list as you go.
Second, practice having your child identify what they are feeling with the list, chart, or cards you made. They should be able to point to the emotion on your chart and name it. Or if they are struggling, you can point and list some emotions for them, and they can answer with ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or ‘maybe a little.’ Over time, your child will develop the skills to identify their feelings.
Third, once your child has identified an emotion, discuss it. Have your child explain the feelings they identified or answered as ‘yes’ and ‘maybe a little.’ Do not interrupt them or try to correct them. Let them share why they feel that way and thank them for their explanation when they finish. If your child seems up to it, you can always discuss different ways to cope with the emotion or express it in a healthy way.
Do not be afraid to address negative emotions. Caregivers often avoid discussing negative emotions with children, which implies to the child that they should not feel this way. This can lead to the child feeling guilty or ashamed about their feelings, which can be detrimental to their mental health. Let your child know that it is okay to feel negative emotions and that everybody feels them.
Fourth, be the example. Demonstrate for your child how to talk about their feelings. If you are sad, show that. Cry and explain to your child what is making you sad. Reassure them that feeling sad is normal, and you can make yourself happier. Then, list what coping activities you do by to make yourself happier. This also provides your child a chance to practice empathy and reacting to another’s emotions.