Talking about feelings with children…

A scene from Tom and Jerry

Feelings can be complicated, especially for a 3-year-old who doesn’t understand why you won’t let her eat another cookie, a 6-year-old is upset that you got called into work and you have to leave the playground early.

It’s difficult to teach kids about feelings because it’s pretty abstract. It’s tricky describe how it feels to be sad, scared, or excited.

It’s important to begin teaching kids about their emotions as early as possible since their feelings affect every choice they make. Children who understand their emotions are less likely to act out by using temper tantrums, aggression, and defiance to express themselves.

Teach Your Child Simple Feeling Words:

A cartoon illustration of a child expressing sadness while she’s comforted

Teach your child basic feeling words such as happy, mad, sad and scared. Leave the more complex feeling words such as frustrated, disappointed, and nervous for they grow older.

A great way to help kids learn about feelings is to discuss how various characters in books or TV shows may feel. Pause to ask, “How do you think he feels right now?” Then, discuss the various feelings the character may be experiencing and the reasons why.

Talking about other people’s feelings also teaches empathy. Young children think the world revolves around them so it can be an eye-opening experience for them to learn that other people have feelings too. If your child knows that pushing his friend to the ground may make his friend mad and sad, he will be less likely to do it.

Create Opportunities to Talk About Feelings:

A cartoon illustration of kids fighting over a toy

Show your kids how to use feeling words in their daily vocabulary. Model how to express feelings by taking opportunities to share your feelings. Say, “I feel sad that you don’t want to share your toys with your sister today. I bet she feels sad too.”

Each day, ask your child, “How are you feeling today?” With young children, use a simple chart with smiley faces if that helps them to pick a feeling and then discuss that feeling together. Talk about the types of things that influence your child’s feelings.

Reinforce Positive Ways to Express Feelings:

A cartoon illustration of kids fighting

Reinforce good behavior with a positive consequence. Praise your child for expressing his emotions in a socially appropriate way by saying things such as, “I really like the way you used your words when you told your sister you were mad at her.” That child will never forget that.

Model Healthy Choices:

An illustration of parents angry at kids

If you tell your child to use his words when he’s angry but he witnesses you throw your phone after a dropped call, your words won’t be effective. Model healthy ways to deal with uncomfortable emotions.

Look for Teachable Moments:

A cartoon scene


You’re going to need to work with your child on emotions throughout his/her entire childhood, including the teen years. It’s important to continue to have ongoing conversations about how to handle emotions in a healthy way.

When your child makes a mistake, by breaking something out of anger or by giving up when he’s frustrated, consider it an opportunity to teach him how to do better next time. Look for teachable moments (and keep in mind there will be plenty of them) to help him/her find healthy ways to cope with his/her feelings.

A child who can say, “I’m mad at you,” is less likely to hit. Also, a child who can say, “That hurts my feelings,” is better equipped to resolve conflict peacefully.

The world needs more responsible adults. That journey begins from childhood.

Please share your thoughts and comments with us.

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