Emotional development in young children: Helping your child express emotions
Learn how to teach your young child how to communicate by using books, art and words instead of through hitting or screaming.
Your 18-month-old daughter hits her 3-year-old brother because he won’t share his toys. Your son yells at his sister and hits her back as she keeps going for the toy. Both kids end up running to you in tears. That kind of scenario is exactly why parents must teach young children how to express their emotions.
If that’s not enough, studies have shown that social and emotional readiness is the key to school success as a child and job success as an adult. Evidence suggests that parents encourage girls to express their emotions more openly than boys, which can cause boys to keep their emotions locked up inside as they become teens. Tell children, both boys and girls, that it’s OK to feel sad, angry and happy. To help them communicate better, encourage your child to use words instead of actions. If your 18-month-old girl wants to hit because she’s angry that her brother won’t share, teach her to say “share.” Tell her no, when she hits. Likewise, you can tell your 3-year-old to come to you instead of hitting when his sister takes a toy from him.
During preschool years, describe emotions like anger: feeling that you don’t like something that makes you want to hit. Use stories to show how others deal with emotions like anger or sadness. Another way to help young children communicate is to give them crayons and paper and ask them to draw a picture of how they are feeling. This helps them build a bridge between the physical world and the inner world of feelings and meaning. As your children grow older, language becomes the key to dealing with emotions. Help them relate the emotions in stories to their own experiences. You can select books for them to read that deal with issues in their lives and then have a discussion with them after they read the book. It’s a good way to help them come to terms with problems and they get used to expressing feelings.
If your child is overly aggressive and angry, it may be a way of avoiding painful feelings that may be associated with failure, loneliness and poor self-esteem. The child may be anxious about things out of his control. Anger can also be associated with sadness and depression, too. Children can’t always distinguish between anger and sadness, so adults need to know that what they express as sadness, a child may express as anger. A good start to deal with your child when she is angry is to give her a hug.
Children need to be told that hurting themselves or others is not the way to express their feelings. Explain that telling someone what they are feeling, whether it be a parent, family friend or counselor is the best way to get their message across. Tell your children no one can help them if they keep those feelings to themselves. Make sure you follow through as well by being ready to help your children talk through their emotions. When children tell you what’s wrong, paraphrase what you heard back to them so they will know you understand what they are feeling.