5 Ways to Help Young Kids Communicate Their Emotions

One of the most valuable lessons you can teach your child is to identify and manage their emotions. Doing so shows them that experiencing a range of emotions is normal. Kids who learn healthy ways to express and cope with their emotions show less behavioral problems. They feel more competent and capable.

“Being able to talk about emotions sets the foundation for healthy problem solving and conflict resolution,” said Sarah Leitschuh, LMFT, a psychotherapist who specializes in helping families develop healthy ways to communicate about and cope with emotions. These skills also help kids to maintain healthy relationships right now and as they get older, she said.

Sometimes, however, parents teach or model the opposite to their kids: They inadvertently create a space where a child feels uncomfortable expressing their emotions, Leitschuh said. Parents might say, “That’s not a big deal” or “You shouldn’t be sad” or “You should be happy” or “Stop crying.”

They might not “give a child their full attention when they’re trying to share an emotion.”

Also, when a child expresses their emotion inappropriately, parents might miss the opportunity to teach them a healthier alternative, she said. Instead, they might jump right into the punishment. This can be confusing for kids because they might assume they’re being punished for their emotion—not the inappropriate behavior. (That’s why it’s helpful to let your child know that the consequence is given for their behavior, not for how they’re feeling.)

Teaching emotional regulation to kids isn’t easy. It’s tough especially if you’re not so comfortable experiencing and expressing your own emotions. But it’s something you can do, one strategy at a time. Below, Leitschuh shared five straightforward suggestions for helping your child identify and manage their emotions.

Help your child recognize emotions every day.

When you see your child experiencing an emotion, help them to label it “in the moment,” Leitschuh said. Help them explore what might’ve triggered their emotion. Point out emotions that other kids might be experiencing, too, she said. You also can share your own emotions with your child (without burdening them, of course), she added.

Read books about emotions to your child. 

Children’s books are filled with wisdom. They put simple but meaningful words to powerful concepts. Leitschuh suggested checking out this page, which includes kids’ books about exploring emotions, coping with anger and navigating different fears.

Look to shows and movies to jump-start discussions.  

While watching your child’s favorite show or movie, Leitschuh suggested asking questions to help them understand a character’s emotions: “What do you think this person is feeling? Have you ever felt like that? What could make the person feel this way?”

Teach your child coping skills.

“I encourage parents to help their children build a variety of effective coping skills that will work for their child,” Leitschuh said. The coping strategies that will be effective will depend on these factors, she said: family; the emotion they’re experiencing; the setting; and the available resources. That’s why it’s important to teach your kids many strategies.

For instance, teach your child positive self-talk. If they’re anxious, your child might tell themselves: “I can do this.” “I am going to be OK.” “I know how to cope with my anxiety.” “Everyone makes mistakes.” “I can ask for help.” “My family loves me for who I am.”

Other strategies include: counting to 10; asking for a hug; listening to music; using a stress ball; and talking to someone your child trusts.

“Experiment to find which strategies are most effective for each child,” Leitschuh said. She also stressed the importance of practicing these coping skills regularly—before they’re needed—and to model them yourself.

Get creative.

Brainstorm creative ways your child can express their emotions that might be more comfortable or natural than only talking about them, Leitschuh said. This might be expressing emotions through “art, writing, physical activity, play [and] music.”

Being in tune with our emotions is being in tune with ourselves. It helps us to better understand what we need. It helps us in communicating and connecting with others. Again, which is why it’s an incredible skill we can teach our kids and practice ourselves.

Feeling overwhelmed by your therapy?

There can be a number of reasons why people take a break from their therapy sessions, so it’s good for your therapist to know a little bit more so he or she can help you.

Some reasons people stop talking can be:

  • Something feels challenging to talk about.
  • Something your therapist has said is having an impact on you.
  • Maybe even your therapist said something you did not like, for whatever reason.
  • Life is busy and stressful.
  • You are not sure what to say or where to go from here.
  • You are not sure if therapy feels like it is working or you are getting what you need.

Whatever the reason, things come up in therapy, and it’s important to talk about them. Your therapist is there for you and has experience at working past these kinds of things.

As therapists, we want to be understanding and help at finding a solution. Let’s talk about it. We want to help.


Small changes…

Venting My Anger

Myth: I shouldn’t “hold in” my anger. It’s healthy to vent and let it out.

Fact: While it’s true that suppressing and ignoring anger is unhealthy, venting is no better. Anger is not something you have to “let out” in an aggressive way in order to avoid blowing up. In fact, outbursts and tirades only fuel the fire and reinforce your anger problem. It is however, healthy to talk through your feelings of anger with someone who can help calm you…someone who will not “stir the pot,” but help you see it from another angle or help you solve the problem. Who might this person be for you?

-Regina Tate, LPC

Craving Surfing

You can’t always rely on willpower alone when it comes to dealing with cravings. Instead, try this technique the next time you feel that pull to eat outside of your scheduled meal plan. When that thought comes into your head to grab something to eat, simply ask yourself, “Is this a craving, or am I actually hungry?” Consider, cravings often come on like a wave, building as it gets closer to us. We can choose to either give into it or let it wash over us. Set a clock, give yourself 10-15 minutes and during that time, find something non-food related to keep you occupied. At the end of the time, evaluate if you are hungry or not and decide what would would be best for you in the moment.

-Matt Lawson, MA, LPC

Become engaged in your life again

Nearly everyone experiences periods of depression, anxiety, frustration, or feeling stuck, and deciding to seek help is the first, most audacious step in a person’s mental health journey. Licensed in Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, and Florida, I specialize in the mental health and well-being of individuals and their families in the reproductive years. We will collaborate to discuss ways to increase insight and awareness for you to become more engaged in your own life in a safe, non-judgmental, solution-focused environment with a sense of humor.

Something unique about my practice is my use of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, which allows us to focus on your changes to help you make progress toward your goals from day one. Together, we will explore how you are coping with the changes in your life and find tools you can use to better manage life transitions.

Additionally, we will work to build communication with your school/work, friends, and loved ones to create the structure and build the coping skills you need to thrive. I specialize in working with people who are experiencing intense reactions to changes, life transitions, feeling overwhelmed, and the disruption all around us.

-Meg Duke, LCSW Supervisor, LSCSW Supervisor, LCDC

Click here to for my contact information to schedule an initial consultation.


verified by Psychology Today Meg Duke