It can be taken for granted that feelings just come naturally. I like to think of teaching feelings more like coaching our kids. The problem is we have small people, our children, who go about emoting in often huge and explosive ways. Feelings are hard!

It can be taken for granted that feelings just come naturally and we can go about our merry way dealing with them. But the problem is we have small people, our children, who go about emoting in often huge and explosive ways. Feelings are hard! It can be so hard to communicate how you feel. I know I still find it hard as an adult, so it has to be extremely hard for a little one to say how they feel when they don’t have the words. This is why we have to be teaching feelings.

Nobody can help to have feelings. We are all born with the ability to feel and feel we do. All day long. In many different circumstances. In so many different ways. But we don’t always understand them or why we are experiencing those particular feelings that particular time. I know I don’t as a 43-year-old woman. There are still days I have to stop and work out WHAT I am feeling and WHY. 

Mother talking to child with baby in carrier teaching feelings
We need to be teaching feelings to our children

FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS

We tend to use the terms feelings, emotions and mood interchangeably to describe how something or someone has made us feel. Are feelings and emotions the same thing? Some people would say that they are the same. Others lean towards them being two separate things in that emotions can be measured physically – by blood flow, by brain activity, by the way we stand and our facial expressions – and feelings are mental and cannot really be measured except by self-assessment tools like questionnaires and charts. 

Depending on which expert you ask there are either 6, 15 or 27 emotions or categories of emotion. Emotions such as anger, anxiety, compassion, depression, envy, fright, gratitude, guilt, happiness, hope, jealousy, love, pride, relief, sadness, and shame. And there are over four thousand feelings listed in the English language. Confused yet? If you are, imagine how children can feel as they are barraged with these emotions and feelings and don’t know how to communicate them. Can you agree with me that we need to be teaching feelings?

We need to teach our children that it is totally ok to have feelings. Everyone has them – both good and bad. We cannot feel ashamed for feeling. But we do need to know how to name our feelings and express them appropriately. Sometimes we feel sad, especially when someone we love goes away. Sometimes we feel happy because we are having fun playing. Or we could feel scared, angry, guilty, lonely or ……..the list goes on. 

phone on table with angry emoji
We could feel scared, angry, guilty, lonely or…….

FEELINGS VS EMOTIONS

I came across this great chart of feelings versus emotions on the Laughter Online University website. I want to share it with you because it helps us, as adults, to see the difference. This is key when teaching our children. 

FeelingsEmotions
Feelings tell us “how to live.”Emotions tell us what we “like” and “dislike.”
Feelings state: “There is a right and wrong way to be.”Emotions state: “There are good and bad actions.”
Feelings state: “Your emotions matter.Emotions state: “The external world matters.
Feelings establish our long term attitude
toward reality.
Emotions establish our initial attitude toward
reality.
Feelings alert us to anticipated dangers and
prepares us for action.
Emotion alert us to immediate dangers and
prepares us for action
Feelings ensure long-term survival of self.
(body and mind.)
Emotions ensure immediate survival of self.
(body and mind.)
Feelings are low-key but sustainable.Emotions are intense but temporary.
Happiness is a feeling.Joy is an emotion.
Worry is a feeling.Fear is an emotion.
Contentment is a feeling.Enthusiasm is an emotion.
Bitterness is a feeling.Anger is an emotion.
Love is a feeling.Attraction is an emotion.

COACHING KIDS

I like to think of teaching feelings more like coaching our kids. What we want is to take the skills that our kids are learning and help them to refine and develop them. We are the ones who are helping them to find the words for what they are feeling, asking questions so they can find the answer themselves, rather than just telling them. It is better to have a child find the word themself rather than us tell them “you are sad” or “you are frustrated” – because they might become even more frustrated (I speak from experience there. I have one daughter who definitely does not like being told what she is feeling, even if you are just trying to help her.)

Whether we are adults or kids, we all have complex feelings. There are no junior feelings! We can feel nervous, frightened, happy, excited, sad and worried. As adults, we usually have the vocabulary to say how we feel. We understand that one feeling is “sad” while another is “jealous”. Kids usually don’t have the words. This is where we watch their body language, their facial expressions and how they are reacting to people and circumstances. Acting out is often a sign of feelings that cannot be verbalized.

Until about the age of twelve children do not have the reasoning skills to fully recognize and say what they are feeling.

Twelve

It is not until about the age of twelve that children do not have the reasoning skills to fully recognize and say what they are felling. Twelve! Sometimes we are too hard on our children because we are expecting a skill that is above their years and development. Acting out is easy for them because it is easier than trying to discuss and communicate things they don’t fully understand. Can I please say that age again? Twelve! I know I need to cut my girls a break at times because they are nowhere near twelve but somehow, in the heat of the frustrating moment, I have an expectation that they will communicate their feelings like a well-adjusted adult. Oops. And sorry my loves. I need to be teaching feelings to you.

Our role

The interactions and relationships that our children have throughout their early developing years help them learn the emotional skills they need to identify and express their feelings, even to contain them if necessary. We have a HUGE role to play in all of this as parents. They are watching us! We are teaching feelings every day even if we don’t realize. They see how we react and interact, what we say and how we say it. They assess our body language and the tone of our voice. If we are not handling our feelings and emotions, we cannot expect our kids to do it. If we are exploding, chances are our children are too.

This great resource has some great tips on helping our children. It is worth checking out.

dark haired boy crying
Feelings can just leak out

FEELINGS ACTIVITIES

There are some easy ways to teach our children about feelings

  1. Songs are great for younger children. Catchy songs like “If You’re Happy And You Know It Clap Your Hands” is easy and fun and you can use it to introduce feelings vocabulary – not just happy, sad, angry. 
  2. Games and Activities. These can be low pressure and provide an environment of learning and sharing without pressure. This is a great resource. 
  1. Watch videos – like Word Party on Netflix or Daniel Tiger 
  2. Talk through what they might be feeling
  3. Model your reactions
  4. Provide tools to help (charts – see below)
  5. Reinforce and reward when appropriate behaviors are used
  6. Talk about the feelings of others
  7. Read books. Here are some books I recommend:

The Feelings Book

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry… (Scholastic Bookshelf)

When Sophie’s Feelings Are Really, Really Hurt

Llama Llama Mad at Mama

In My Heart: A Book of Feelings (Growing Hearts)

Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods That Make My Day

(As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Each link above is from Amazon.)


FEELINGS CHART FOR KIDS

A feelings chart is a great way to help children to work through their feelings by recognizing and acknowledging them. It is a simple representation through pictures. They can be photos of people or simple drawings that provide the facial expressions associated with the feeling. They can be emojis (which is actually a clear way to start with younger children). There can be as many or as few faces as you need. You don’t want to overwhelm a young child with a chart of 20 faces. They really only need about 6 or 7. Older children can handle some of the nuances and can handle a greater selection to choose from. 

How do you use a feelings chart? Simply provide the child with the chart and ask them to point how they are feeling. You can use it at the end of the day just before they go to sleep, to ask how their day was and how they feel about it. You can use it in the midst of a battle of the wills when acting out is taking place, and can ask them to point out what they cannot fully verbalize. Basically, you can use it whenever you like, for whatever spot check of feelings and emotions you want to have. Read a book about feelings and ask your child to point out how the characters were feeling. Watch a show and do the same thing. This is a handy tool.

There are many printable charts on the internet and just take a simple search. But because I love you, I have found a good feelings chart for younger children and one for older children that you can just download and print off. 

cute happy girl blowing dandelion fluff
It’s oh so great when they are happy

PARENTING SKILLS

Don’t we wish that we all were suddenly endowed with amazing parenting skills the moment our child is placed in our arms for the first time? Instead, we sometimes stumble along, we sometimes rely on what has worked for friends, or sometimes we just make it up as we go. Teaching feelings would be something that would be wonderful if it were fully ingrained. At least, that is how I feel.

The Diggle Technique (This is something I show in the vlog)

This was a spur of the moment, flash in the pan, a lightning bolt from Heaven idea. We had been having some rough times with Kira, who was letting us know that something was amiss, but was doing so in an explosive way. Ka-boom! We also knew that she didn’t have the words, and was frustrated that her sister did. We had been watching Word Party but that wasn’t enough. 

It became a matter of trying to sort through the emotions and feelings and removing them from the current situation so that we could talk to Kira. The idea came to me in the midst of one of her tantrums and we still use it today. This has also served well in teaching feelings, not just as a “calm down so I can talk to you without losing it” tool.

It goes like this:

  • I ask questions, providing an emotion name – angry, sad, frustrated…Are you feeling sad? Are you feeling sad? I have noticed you are not acting your fun to be with self – are you feeling frustrated or angry?
  • When an emotion is acknowledged (“Yes, I feel angry”) we scoop it up out of her belly and squish it into a ball.
  • This repeats until all the emotions and feelings are named and scooped out. I usually ask “Is there anything else in there that we haven’t named? Because you know that we want it all gone so that I can talk to Kira and not to the emotions and feelings.”
  • On the count of 3, throw the ball into the air so that the emotions are gone.
  • Now we can talk through what is going on and why and come up with solutions because once it is in the air it cannot come back! 

This has worked so well because it provided her with words when she wasn’t sure what the actual name was. It also allowed her to do something, to act upon and remove that emotion. As the parent, it allowed me to remove the feeling and emotion from the situation so that I could talk to her without histrionics. 

It’s been working well

It has been working extremely well for almost 2 years now. But, as you know, as a parent you sometimes tweak a golden tool. One night, and I really don’t know why, but we had friends over and I was feeling a little done with the attitude. But I also wanted to just make the room feel happier. I tweaked to it ”Fart It Out”. This is where I felt in her belly for the emotions and feelings and squished them into approximately the belly button area. When all the feelings were named and in the right location, on the count of 3 I pushed on her belly and made a farting sound. Maybe not my finest moment, but you know, it worked! It made her laugh and the situation and atmosphere rapidly changed. 

We now use these interchangeably. For both girls. Though they tend to ask for help by farting it out. It still makes them laugh and it still changes the mood. There is something powerful and wonderful about having Mummy or Papa helping you to “fart out the crappy attitudes”. (Yes, this is how we say it – it seems apropos to say crappy, though I know that it is not a word in every family’s vocabulary). 

Sometimes you have to laugh

I have had to “Fart It Out” in restaurants, at the Zoo and many other public places. People have come up to me and ask if they can share that technique with their spouse, partner, friend, whatever. I should probably patent it. Can’t you just imagine the title of the book “Fart it Out; a technique to rid your child of crappy attitudes”? Ha.  Maybe it should just be “Teaching Feelings in Creative and Possibly Inappropriate Ways”. Ha.


TEACHING FEELING

So there it is, some simple ways in which we can teach feeling, teach emotions and how to handle them. Be prepared that it will take a bit of time. To quote an old Australian Pantene commercial, “It won’t happen overnight but it will happen.” Be patient. Understand that your children won’t have the full cognitive ability to understand and juggle it all until they are about twelve……and then puberty will hit and a whole new slew of emotions and feelings will escape, Lord, help us. But you’ve got this! You can do it! We will not let the emotions and feelings of our children overwhelm us…..but if they do, we’ve got chocolate and can lock ourselves in the bathroom with a good book for a while (or is that just me?)

I would love to hear if you have any technique that you came up with that works for your family. It’s always fun to learn new things and to get some new tools.

Michayla Best

For over 30 years I have worked with children in a variety of capacities, whether as a teacher or tutor, a babysitter, a camp leader, or family advocate. I have always found a way to connect with children, to help them understand themselves and the world around.

I am Mummy to trinational twincesses who keep me on my toes with their questions, their commentaries, their shenanigans and acts of spontenudity.

Wife, world traveler, musician, crafting queen and self-proclaimed nerd; I love to take what I see, glean, know and help families to find their groove and be successful.

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