The toddler and preschool years are filled with emotional outbursts, and tears, temper tantrums and even shyness may have parents at their wits ends. This is all new to your preschooler, as she is just learning to recognize her feelings. Helping her identify her feelings and giving her some strategies for dealing with them in constructive ways are all part of growing up. So what can parents do at home to help foster their child’s emotional development?

Brandy Franks, Founder and President of Absorbent Minds Montessori School in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, uses this technique with preschoolers to help children identify feelings: “One thing we do is make a box with pictures of children showing different emotions. We use happy, sad, angry, embarrassed, excited and shy. Each side of the box has one emotion with the word and the picture. The children will pass the box around the circle in the morning and pick a face to describe how they feel. Each child then tells us what happened to make them feel that way or why they feel that way. We emphasize that it is ok to feel any emotion, and we teach the children to accept the way others feel. It is a great way for a child to express themselves without really knowing they are doing so.”

Not sure what to do to help your child deal with her emotions? Try a few of these easy to implement ideas:

  • Talk it Through After a child has had an emotional outburst and had a chance to calm down, take a few minutes to discuss the events. Ask your child how she felt, what made her feel that way and how she handled her feelings. Your response might be something like this: “I’m sorry you felt angry that your little brother took your toy, but hitting him is not OK. What else could you do instead of hitting?” Have a discussion about other alternatives, such as asking the sibling to give it back, finding him another toy to play with and asking him to trade or asking Mom for help. Remind your child that using her words instead of her hands is always a better choice when she is angry.
  • Act it Out Find a time to play a game of emotional charades with the whole family. Think of some scenarios that might cause a child to feel different emotions such as angry, sad, lonely, embarrassed, excited, happy and shy. You can use events that have actually happened with your children or make up stories. Have each player listen to the scenario and then show how she would feel and what she would do. Have a group discussion about other ways to handle the situation. This is a great time for Mom and Dad to share stories from your childhood about similar situations and both the good and not so good choices you might have made and what the consequences were.
  • Color Me Happy Art can be a wonderful outlet for children who may not have the words to describe how they feel. You might create a special “feelings journal” for your child to use when she is upset. Provide her with crayons or markers and let her draw. Even toddlers can scribble to help blow off some steam after a temper tantrum. If your child would like to, she can tell you about her picture and how she was feeling when she drew it. Simply saying “tell me about your picture” might be enough to get your child to open up and share her feelings with you.
  • Bring on the Books Check out a few of these books from your local library or ask your librarian for her favorite books about emotions for preschoolers:
  1. The Way I Feel by Janan Cain (Parenting Press, 2000)
  2. Feelings to Share from A-Z by Todd Snow (Maren Green Publishing, 2007)
  3. Way I Feel Series (Includes When I Feel Angry, When I Feel Scared, When I Feel Sad,  When I Feel Jealous and more) by Cornelia Maude Spelman (Albert Whitman & Company, 2004)
  4. Best Behavior Series (Includes Hands are not for Hitting, Teeth are not for Biting, Words Are Not for Hurting, Feet Are Not for Kicking) by Martine Agassi (Free Spirit Publishing, 2004)

Making time for a few simple activities can help foster your child’s social and emotional development which is important in the preschool years. Take time to talk, share your feelings and explain how you deal with your emotions and your modeling is sure to rub off on your little one. It will make you both feel great when you can be partners in discovering and dealing with your child’s emotions.