We’ve all been there… Our toddlers or preschoolers come to us crying about mean words spoken, cutting in line, or a friend not their sharing toys. Whatever injustice they are feeling, our first instinct is to tell our little ones that “it’s okay!” And it is okay. Odds are that the issue is not a too big that they can’t get by with patching it up with a hug, a kiss, or a Popsicle!
However telling our kids “it’s okay” doesn’t help them understand what they’re feeling and why they’re feeling that way. With a little guidance behind emotions we can help them identify and verbalize their feelings and also learn to cope with them. In fact, only saying “it’s okay” kind of brushes your child’s feelings under the rug and tells them that it’s time to let the issue go and move on, whether it feels resolved to your child or not.
In fact, what we should be teaching our kids is that whatever they’re feeling in any moment is fine and a normal part of life! Feelings are feelings and your child is going to have them for the rest of their life, so best learn how to deal with them head on. The first step is learning to identify WHAT they’re feeling. Are they crying because they’re angry, frustrated, hurt, or sad?
To assist your child name the emotion they’re feeling, it’s helpful to understand what happened leading up to the feeling. Start by having your child take a few deep breaths to calm down. When they’re ready, ask your child to tell you what happened. Then help them name their feelings AND show that you understand the scenario with a reply that goes something like, “Oh, gosh! It sounds like Timmy pushed you in the sandbox and that made you angry!” Then, show some empathy yourself, “It would make me angry to be pushed, too.” And help your child learn to problem solve with a question like, “What do you think we should do about how we feel?”
Learning Resources’ Soft Foam Emoji Cubes are a great way to help kids name and talk about their own emotions.
They will also learn to begin to recognize various emotions in others. Two cubes feature emoji faces displaying 12 different emotions. Begin by rolling one die and asking how your child thinks that emoji is feeling? Is it feeling sad, confused, embarrassed?
Next roll one of the other colored die and read the question it lands on. “Share a memory of when you felt shy” or “One time I was frightened because…” are perfect conversation starters and will get your kiddo comfortable with talking about various emotions.
A paper plate emotion spinner is another fun activity to help kids learn to identify their emotions.
Start by drawing 8 small circles around the edge of a paper plate.
If your child is able, let them draw a different emotion in each circle. You can suggest things like happy, sad, angry, frustrated, silly, shy, scared, and nervous.
Next, cut a circle the same size out of the edge of a second paper plate. Label the plate “How Am I Feeling?” Let your child paint the center, if you like. Stack the plates, punch a hole in the center of both, and attach them with a brad.
Spin the top plate to reveal various emotions peeking through the hole and ask your child to identify them. You can also use the plates as a tool to help your child verbalize feelings in the moment – a particularly helpful (and distracting!) tool when your child is too upset to speak or doesn’t know how to articulate what they’re feeling.
Next time your child is upset, take a deep breath, and in addition to telling them “it’s okay”, help them feel their emotion and understand it. This will do wonders for their emotional well-being as well as your own. Then, of course, give them a hug, a kiss, and a Popsicle! 😊