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teaching-feelingsA couple of years ago, I sat crying on the sofa with my trusty lab draped across my lap. I can only tell you that I felt extremely elated and somewhat sad because my son left for college. The poor dog didn’t know what to make of me. I was a wreck. How complicated it was to sort through everything I was feeling. How wonderful it felt for me to try to work it through and enjoy every minute of said complications.

I offer this as an example as I am an adult therapist who is trained in feelings and yet there are times when it is difficult to process my own emotions.

Here are three things you can do to teach children about feelings:

  1. Teach feeling words,
  2. Know your own “stuff” and how you feel, and
  3. Be creative regarding the child’s special interests.

Teach Feeling Words
A gift we can give all young children is to teach feeling words. Children love to express themselves with paper and nifty smelly markers. Lots of time, combining color helps a child to relate to their own feelings too.

Sorting through feelings for an adult is difficult. Sorting through feelings for a child can be extremely complicated. For the little ones, remember the song, “If You’re Happy and You Know It?” I like the idea of adding some of the other basic feelings like sad, angry, afraid, etc… and then asking for examples of times when a child felt each of those feelings. It is a good idea to take it a step further too – “Now close your eyes and tell me where you feel sad in your body when you think about the time when you got hollered at.”

Know How You Feel
A word of caution – before you embark on teaching emotions, please make sure you are in touch with your own feelings first. Avoid saying, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” If it is unclear to you, then please seek out the advice of a professional who will be able to provide you with specific instructions and team up with you to achieve your goals. That same professional can help you to sort through your own emotions. There might even be group therapy/social skills opportunities where feelings can be processed in groups.

Use Your Child’s Special Interest
If your child has a special interest, then tie in the lessons with the special interest. It could be in the form of a social story, or use your own creativity. Remember, whatever the feelings are, we all have a right to own them. Teaching that you can feel more than one feeling at a time with real life examples is a gift. Don’t be limited by words. Sounds can be very expressive, particularly if an individual gets tongue-tied or frustrated and can’t find the words. There are some wonderful children’s books out there too that may be specific to a situation (such as death, divorce, etc).

Be respectful of whatever an individual demonstrates as their personal expression. Just because a person’s face doesn’t change when they are sad or angry, it doesn’t mean they are not feeling sad or angry (or both). But being able to communicate what is inside is a step towards advocacy.