“How do you feel?”
This might seem like an easy question to answer, yet so many people — especially young children — get overwhelmed by their feelings. Research shows that the ability to identify and understand emotions is an important skill that will not only improves a child’s well-being as they grow up, but also will set them up for better academic success and life satisfaction.
Children learn best through positive modeling, so here are some great ways to incorporate emotion-based language and practices into your day-to-day life.
- Use books to introduce and highlight emotions. Children’s literature is rich with examples of books that support emotional literacy. Try adding in these books to your bedtime reading list as a way to normalize different emotions and provide examples of what they can look or feel like. Another great practice is to ask questions about characters in any story, e.g “How do you think __ ___ ___ ______ __ ___ ___ ______ feels? What makes you say that?” This encourages children to flex their empathy muscle while practicing recognizing emotions. Here’s a great list of books for young children to get you started:
- When Sophie's Feelings Are Really, Really Hurt by Molly Bang
- When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang.
- Mean Soup by Betsy Everitt
- It's Hard to Be Five: Learning How to Work My Control Panel by Jamie Lee Curtis
- Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods That Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis
- In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek
- The Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings by Anna Llenas
- All Kinds of Feelings by Sheri Safran
- A Book of Feelings by Amanda McCardie
- The Great Big Book of Feelings by Mary Hoffman
- Post a feelings chart like Mindfulness: Guide to Feelings or the Carson-Delossa Feelings Chart somewhere prominent in your home. Using the chart, identify your feelings throughout the day. Encourage your children to use the chart to help them figure out how they might be feeling and what they might need. An extension to this activity, would be to invite your child to create their own feelings chart by drawing faces on index cards and making a poster to hang in their room.
- Share daily “rose and thorn.” Dinner is a great time for everyone in the family to share a high and low point over the course of your day. Practice using feeling words as you describe your day, e.g., “I felt excited when...I felt worried when...I felt brave when...” to deepen and strengthen your child’s emotional vocabulary. Building in a regular, meaningful reflection using is a great way to deepen relationships and become more comfortable with expressing emotions.
- Ask open-ended questions. Do you ever ask, “How was your day?” and get a dispassionate, “Good” — or worse — crickets? So many things happen during the day, it can be hard for children (and adults!) to think back and share on what really happened. Ask questions such as, “When did you feel happy today?""What made you feel worried today?" "When did you feel grateful?" "Can you tell me about a time when someone was kind to you today?” to help your child think about their day in relation to their feelings.
- Create and use an art journal to keep track of ideas and process feelings. Art is a wonderful way for children to express themselves, especially when the prompts or materials are open-ended like those in suggestion 4 above. Model how to use a sketchbook-style journal to express your feelings through different artistic modalities (painting, drawing, collage) and provide time to work side-by-side or collaboratively with your child.
- Acknowledge feelings. Provide a safe space for your child to experience their emotions by listening to their needs. This practice both helps your child understand their feelings and also provides them with the knowledge that you see and hear their needs. Phrases such as, “It seems like you are feeling disappointed to leave the playground. It can be hard to leave before you are ready.” or “You looked really happy riding your bike this morning.” Invite your children to hear feeling words used in relation to their own experiences and allows them to agree or disagree, while helping them to share how they feel.
By supporting your children to develop their emotional intelligence at home, you will be giving them a skill that will benefit them throughout the rest of their life. education and well into adulthood.