The Big Idea: Challenging behavior happens most often when kids can’t figure out how to express big feelings. You can help them recognize those feelings and express them in a positive way.
Here are some ways to help your child recognize and express big feelings:
- Books can be especially good for helping kids learn emotions (though you’ll want to try this strategy when kids aren’t mid-tantrum)! While reading, point out and name different feelings. You can say, “That boy is really angry. Grrr!” Or, “It’s so frustrating when you’re trying to tie your shoelaces and you can’t quite get it.” Or, “That girl is disappointed that the rain ruined her family’s picnic.”
- Remind kids to use words to express themselves. Rather than throwing something, encourage them to say, “I’m mad,” or “Can you please help me?” Labeling feelings is a step toward greater maturity and self-control.
- Offer empathy. Sometimes all that’s needed is for kids to know they’re being heard. For example: “I can see that you’re feeling sad,” or “It’s hard to wait your turn, isn’t it?” It’s also a good way to model using words, not actions, to express difficult emotions.
- When the strongest feelings are gone, help kids move on. Encourage them to take a few deep breaths or do a big whole-body stretch. Then suggest a new activity. Sometimes a bit of humor helps, too. Being able to move on—resilience—is a key life skill that you’ll be helping kids develop.