Young children have a hard time expressing how they feel appropriately. Which is why tantrums and acting out are all part of childhood. Tantrum behaviors are brought out by a child’s inability to identify or express their feelings. Here are some tips on how to help young children express their emotions. This isn't to say that I've got it all figured out, but I hope these will help parents and teachers better communicate with and understand children in their care.
How to Help Young Children Express Their Emotions
Communication and expression are two-way streets. A lot of the time, the problem isn’t necessarily a child’s inability to express themselves, it’s an adult’s inability or unwillingness to listen. Tantrums are often brought about by a child’s frustration at being waved off or misunderstood. Much of this can be avoided if adults take the time to listen and seek to understand their children.
Children haven't yet developed the tools necessary to understand and communicate their feelings. They may not understand how to label their emotion. They may not have the vocabulary needed to express what’s bothering them. Try to look at their eyes and other body language to try to better figure out what they really mean when they tell you something.
Be a Good Role Model
Unfortunately, many of us have picked up some ingrained bad habits from our elders and peers when it comes to handling emotions. Even if we know something is wrong with how we handle emotions, we may not necessarily react the correct way.
For example, my parents yelled when we misbehaved. I'm quite certain their parents yelled before them. I don't want to yell. Even with all my well meaning, there are times when I resort to yelling. I shouldn't be surprised, then, if my children yell occasionally from frustration.
It’s important that we set a good example to children with how to handle emotions. While our examples should include helping them learn how to express emotions properly, there should also be some emphasis on showing them when the correct times to express them are. If possible, show them how to read a room or react when there are other people around. We should also teach them what to do when they blow it. Which is why when I blow it and yell, I do stop and apologize.
Show them how to ask for attention
Children have to be taught socially acceptable ways to do things, and that includes how to ask for help or attention. This should be role played with another adult or an older child. Children tend to remember what they've learned through role play more than what they've just been told.
Giving children social scripts is crucial. For example, we've taught our children what to do if we're talking to another adult and they need our attention. They may
- Stand close and gently tap our arm or shoulder
- Quietly say our name, one time
- Wait for us to look at them
- Then talk to us.
They are not allowed to bang on our arm or repeatedly say our name. When they do, we stop the behavior and ask them to start over. For the most part, other adults are gracious during the teaching moment.
Use positive reinforcement
When a child expresses themselves in the right way, without you telling them, be consistent in giving them praise. Positive reinforcement can be much more powerful in shaping a child’s behavior than punishment alone.
Use silicone wristbands to label emotions
Silicone wristbands and rubber bracelets are now being used by educators and parents as a way to help children get to grips with emotions they may not yet be able to identify. The idea is to let children wear wristbands that correspond to how they’re feeling, and switching them out as their moods change.
Teaching children how to label emotions has long been an important cornerstone of preschool learning. Silicone bands, however, have proven to be especially effective for this purpose.
Color-coded silicone wristbands, as well as those with imprints of emojis, are also convenient for adults, as they can immediately identify how a child is feeling and tailor their approach. Similarly, children can develop empathy by learning what the wristbands mean when they’re worn by their peers.
Silicone wristbands offer a range of advantages over other accessories. First, they’re extremely inexpensive, with customized bands in virtually any color costing only a few cents each. Second, kids love to wear silicone bracelets and very little prompting is needed to get them to put them on. Third, bracelets can last a very long time and can survive whatever a small child can put them through. Fourth, children with limited fine motor skills can easily put on and remove silicone wristbands without any adult assistance, making their act of labeling their emotions truly their own. Lastly, silicone bracelets can easily be sanitized with a wide range of widely available home cleaning products.
Read about emotions
Books are a great way to help children learn about and identify emotions. There are many great books on emotions. Here are a few of my favorites!
Moods Flipboard or Flashcards
Another effective way of helping your child express their emotions is to provide them with a mood flip book or flashcards. These are often used with children who have difficulty with language and/or children who have autism related diagnoses.
These are but a handful of the strategies you can use to help your child grow up to be a well-rounded and emotionally healthy individual. Be sure to check with a qualified child psychiatrist or educator about the best way to help a child with special needs better express themselves.
I'd love to hear about the strategies you use! Head over to the That Bald Chick facebook page, and give me your tips for teaching children to express their emotions appropriately!
Be sure to check out these posts while you're here!