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6 ways to help your child name and talk about their feelings

Kid

Parent

Teen

Mindfulness

Resilience

October 10, 2023

We all have BIG feelings sometimes, and sitting with discomfort can be hard. But when we begin to notice when we’re experiencing uncomfortable emotions, like sadness or disappointment, we can better access the support or self-compassion that we need. That’s why it is important to teach our children to recognize, name, and discuss their feelings. By giving them a safe space to open up, you’re equipping them with the tools they need to navigate life's ups and downs.

No matter if your child is 3 or 13, helping them notice and articulate their feelings will deeply benefit their emotional health and interpersonal relationships. Read on for how to help your child open up about what’s going on inside. 

Top tips for helping your child talk about emotions 

  1. Lead by example. Our kids are always watching and learning from us. Before you can teach your child to name and talk about their feelings, it’s super helpful if you’re comfortable doing the same. Make an effort to openly express your feelings in words in front of your child or teen. It’s especially important to show challenging emotions. "I felt frustrated today when...", "It made me happy when...", or "I was worried when...". Demonstrating emotional transparency can normalize the process for your child and help them open up more often.

  2. Build a feelings vocabulary. It’s best to start with basic emotions such as happy, sad, angry, and scared. As your child grows and becomes more familiar with these concepts, try introducing more nuanced emotions like frustration, disappointment, or excitement. Visual aids, like feeling charts or emotion flashcards, can be especially helpful with younger kids. Discussing characters in books, TV, and movies can be an easy, low pressure way to start a conversation with older kids and teens.

  3. Connect thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. A central idea of cognitive behavioral therapy is that our thinking influences our emotions and behaviors — and vice versa. So, if you can work toward changing your thoughts, it could also change how you feel and act. Focus on helping your child make the connection between how certain thoughts can impact their feelings, which in turn affects how they act. It can be helpful to remind them that their thoughts are not always facts, but they are valid. We might think something is true, but that doesn’t mean it is true. Once they can begin to articulate their thoughts, then describing their feelings may come easier and it also may improve their behavior.

  4. Validate their feelings. When your child expresses a feeling, acknowledge it without judgment. Phrases like "It's okay to feel that way" or "I understand why you might feel that" can help your child to feel seen and supported.

  5. Track moods. Your mood is a temporary state of mind or feeling. That’s right, your mood is fleeting and, despite how it may feel in the moment, it will not last forever. Explain to your child that our moods are ever-changing, and the only way to get out of one mood is to get into another one. For younger kids, you can compare it to the hourly weather report. The morning time may be rainy, but the clouds will eventually pass and the sun will come out again. Or you can encourage your child to think of their moods, emotions, and feelings as data points. It’s your body’s way of letting you know how you’re doing. Using a visual chart with stickers is a great way to track moods and notice patterns surrounding events that trigger positive or negative feelings. Teens can benefit from mood tracking through apps and journaling.

  6. Seek professional support if needed. If your child struggles with expressing their emotions, or if their emotions are affecting their well-being, don’t hesitate to seek guidance from a child therapist or counselor. Bend coaches, therapists, and psychiatrists are here to help, with appointments available within days

How to be an active listener

One of the best ways to encourage your child to talk about their feelings is by being an active listener. This means giving them your full attention, nodding, using verbal affirmations, and avoiding interruptions or offering immediate solutions. Active listening is about hearing what’s being said, and maybe what’s not being said by focusing on a person’s body language. Our coaches at Bend use our H.E.A.R technique to help work on active listening:

H - Hear them out: Start by truly hearing what your child is saying. This means giving them your undivided attention and being present in the moment. Try to avoid interrupting them or thinking about what you want to say next. 

E - Empathize with them: Try to understand how they are feeling by putting yourself in their shoes. Show empathy by acknowledging their emotions and reflecting on how you would feel in a similar situation.

A - Ask open-ended questions: Encourage them to share more about their experience. This can help you understand the issue more fully and show that you are interested in what they have to say.

R - Reflect back: After they have shared their story, reflect back on what you heard them say. This can help you ensure that you have understood them correctly and take their thoughts seriously. 

In a society that often prioritizes academic achievements, the importance of emotional intelligence can sometimes be overlooked. By teaching your child to name and discuss their emotions, you're letting them know that their feelings matter, and you're equipping them with the skills to manage those feelings in a healthy way. 

As with any skill, the more it's practiced, the more adept your child will become, laying the foundation for a lifetime of emotional resilience and healthy relationships. Don’t forget to reach out to the team at Bend if you could use extra support along the way.