Fred Rogers (aka Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) famously said, “I’m convinced that when we help our children find healthy ways of dealing with their feelings, ways that don’t hurt them or anyone else, we’re helping to make our world a safer, better place.” What Mister Rogers understood is that kids need help understanding feelings so they can learn how to handle big emotions. As parents, this responsibility falls on us. Fortunately, helping kids understand emotions isn’t rocket science. It simply requires parents to be present and thoughtful. And maybe a little time viewing Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
1. Be a Role Model
The most effective way to teach your kids about emotions is to be a role model. Express your feelings using words kids will understand, such as “Mommy is sad because she spilled the spaghetti.” It’s good and healthy for kids to see their parents expressing a range of emotions. Mister Rogers said, “When our children see us expressing our emotions, they can learn that their own feelings are natural and permissible, can be expressed, and can be talked about. That's an important thing for our children to learn.”
However, it is also important to watch how you respond to your feelings. If your kids see you scream when you are angry, they will learn to express anger this way.
2. Talk About Emotional Expressions
Spend time talking to kids about how people express their emotions. Kids need to make the connection between emotions and actions. For example, talk to kids about how feeling angry may make someone scowl or clench their fist, how sadness leads to tears, and how joy is expressed with big grins and laughter. These conversations also open the door to correcting inappropriate ways to express our feelings, such as throwing a toy when angry.
3. Recognize That Behind Every Behavior is a Feeling
Speaking of emotional expressions, parents need to recognize that behind every one of their child’s behaviors is a feeling. When your child is acting out, try to consider what she may be feeling that would cause her to purposely knock over her brother’s block tower. She may be feeling jealous, angry, or tired. When your child is suddenly shy, check to see if he is feeling nervous and has butterflies in his tummy.
4. Identify Feelings in Others
Don’t focus solely on the feelings happening in your own home. Kids need to learn how to identify the emotional state of those around them. Knowing how to recognize the feelings of others will also help them interact with others appropriately, such as comforting a sad friend. NAMEE’s Emotions book makes it easy for parents to work with their children to develop this skill. As you read the book together, point out the character’s facial expressions and what feelings these expressions represent. Additionally, talk about why the character has certain feelings. Finally, talk about how your child would feel if they were going through the same thing. This is very easy to do with NAMEE’s personalized book because the main character shares your child’s name and physical features! Estrella Bascuñan - illustrator of the book made sure that the illustrations would immediately catch your child's eye!
5. Praise Your Child for Acknowledging Emotions
We want our kids to feel comfortable expressing their feelings, so make a point to praise your child for acknowledging her feelings – even if those feelings are anger or jealousy. It’s far better for a child to identify those emotions right as they feel them rather than hide them until they reach a dangerous boiling point. Show your little one you are proud of her for recognizing those feelings and responding to them appropriately.