When your small child shows you big feelings…
Children have the same emotions as adults. They experience the range of happy, sad, anger, fear, excitement and frustration. They do not though have the same internal capacity to display these feelings appropriately. They need the caring adults in their lives to help them work through these big and often confusing feelings.
Strategies to support strong feelings…
- Name your feelings when you are feeling them. If you are happy, tell your child that you are happy and why. Tell them when you are sad or frustrated and in simple terms, tell them why.
- After naming a feeling and telling why you feel that way, tell the child what you are going to do to show that feeling to others. When you are angry about something, say “I am angry that someone littered in our yard. I am going to clean it up and then ask the neighbors to keep a watch out.” Or, “I am really angry that someone said something not nice to me. I am going to sit in this chair and take big breaths to help calm me.”
- Name your child’s feelings out loud and why, “You are happy because Daddy is singing songs with you.” Or, “You are mad because Mommy told you NO.” And then tell your child what is an okay behavior when feeling that way, “When you are mad it is okay to cross your arms and say ‘I am mad!'”
- Pretend play is another way to model for children that big emotions are okay to have and that there are appropriate ways in your family to show it. Two stuffed animals can have an argument over a toy and you model one stuffed animal saying, “I am not going to play with you right now because I am feeling sad.” And the other animal can say “I am sorry, let’s take turns with the toy.”
Other thoughts on big feelings
It is important that young children know that big feelings are okay to have and to talk about. It is our job to model and teach them how to appropriately show those emotions. It takes time, hugs, patience and much practice, but in the end a child will be better able to use self-control and words to express a feeling instead of inappropriately displaying one.
By Early Learning Program Staff