How To Talk To Your Child About Emotions

By Stefanie Ady

Dealing with emotions is a part of everyone’s skill set.  Parents, teachers and other caregivers have an added challenge of helping children to navigate around any bends in life’s daily road that may affect their well-being.  The road map of emotional intelligence includes friends, family and school relationships.  We can help our children from confusing feelings by purposefully talking about different emotions and ways to cope.

A child might come home from school feeling frustrated, tired or ready for a snack.  Here are a few ways you can check in with them emotionally:

  • “Tell me about school/grandma’s/daycare today.”  Inviting children to participate in a narrative about their day will give far more insight than simply saying “How was school?”
  • “Who did you sit with at lunch/play with at recess?”  This will inform you of some key people in your child’s daily interactions, and allow you to gauge whether they are making connections with others in a positive way.
  • “What are you feeling good about?  What do you wish could have been different today?”  These questions help create a reciprocal conversation with the child as you can share about your day with them, too.

“Pretty much as soon as they’re verbal, children can be taught to identify and communicate their feelings,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Lisa Firestone with Psychology Today.  We need to deliberately teach children to handle the emotions stemming from social interactions at an early age. 

Steps to increase the emotional intelligence of children:

  1. Identify what the child is feeling and give it a name.  Are they feeling sad, mad, a mix of both?  Are they feeling excited or nervous?  Are they content?  Try to find an accurate label for the emotion.
  2. Discuss different options for how to react to a feeling or situation.  Show empathy and tell them about some healthy ways you deal with difficult emotions.  There is always a “next right thing” to do, whether you’re feeling good or bad. 
  3. Give the child a few minutes to be alone or reset after your conversation.  Ask what they need.  Listen to music, play a game or simply let them watch television to decompress.

Creating an environment that openly handles emotions models to a child that they are capable of handling emotions and that they have support.

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