Help your Toddlers and Preschoolers Understand their Emotions
Updated: Sep 10, 2019
Understanding and getting in touch with emotions is hard enough for us adults, just imagine how much more so for little ones who cannot yet even identify their emotions, let alone understand them.
Toddlers and preschoolers have all the same emotions as we do, but with their limited vocabulary, it is so difficult for them to express themselves to us. That leaves us, as parents, often translating their actions as tantrums and handling it incorrectly.
Helping your children to be able to recognize and name their emotions is important, not only for us to understand them, but for them to understand themselves. Labeling their emotions makes it less scary or intimidating for them and helps them try to deal with it independently.
You can make these lessons a bonding experience for the whole family. Stand with your children in front of a mirror and make faces while describing the emotion that face belongs to. Let your children mimic your face while you explain to them what that emotion is and how it might be brought on. You can also find generic drawings that show a face smiling, frowning, looking scared, looking angry, etc. Then, ask your children to identify the emotion. For instance, show two faces: one frowning and one smiling. Ask your child to point to the happy face.
Once they know how to recognize their emotions, they will be able to tell you that they are mad their painting didn't come out as well as they wanted or that they are sad that their friends can't come over. Now you can help them by teaching them how to handle each emotion. You can show them that when they are mad, they can step back and take a few deep breaths. This can help them reassess the reasoning for their feelings and then start to think about what they can do. For example, if they are angry that their painting did not come out as planned, after a few deep breaths to help them calm down, they can decide if they want to start over or if they want to keep working and fix what they have by adding things that weren't in their original plan.
Kids learn by example, so at this young age, it is crucially important for you to express how you are feeling out loud when they are around you and explain step by step how you are dealing with it. If your children catch you off guard (as they usually do!) and see you yelling at the driver that cut you off in traffic or getting frustrated with the coffee maker, use this as a perfect time for a lesson. Explain to them that you acted rash and it was because you were upset. That you should have taken a step back and counted to three to give yourself time to relax before reacting. When children see that their parents also make mistakes, they feel a lot less threatened by the subject. This will give them the courage to figure out how they can best deal with their own emotions.
Remember to always listen to your children’s feelings and never minimize or dismiss them as unimportant. Praise them when they express themselves to you and be sure they understand that what they are feeling is normal and it is healthy to talk about it.
When little ones learn to understand and express themselves from a young age, it helps them grow to have good mental health, a positive sense of self, be well behaved, and sympathetic of others.