How can we get our kids to talk about their feelings

How to get children to talk about their feelings

Let’s face it, we are living in unpredictable times, where feelings of uncertainty have become the norm. As an adult, you might be feeling stressed, moody and generally overwhelmed. In times like these, it is possible to become so focused on trying to keep your own head above water that you land up neglecting the fact that your children might well be experiencing the same emotional journey. This is as good a time as any to check in with them and encourage expression and communication.

My experience as a psychologist and even more so as a mom, has highlighted how much of a challenge the direct expression of feelings can be for little people. So in order for you to foster an environment where they feel comfortable to share, you need to be a bit creative. Here are some fun ideas:

  • Reading books– kids will feel way more comfortable reading or talking about other people’s feelings, without realizing it is in fact assisting in processing their own. Find some “feeling” books at your local library or purchase them online or instore. Look out for a lovely series of books by Trace Moroney entitled: “When I’m Feeling”.
  • Drawing pictures– ask them to draw how they are feeling. Or even more non-directive, ask them to draw pictures such as a person, a house, themselves, a tree or a family. Sit and talk about the picture and ask questions.
  • Feeling chart– print out some “emojis” illustrating various feelings and every morning or evening let your child select the emoji which best represents how he/she is feeling. They can then stick it on their feeling chart. This is a wonderful way to gauge how they are feeling without a word even being said!
  • Sensory play – Set up a sensory activity, such as playing in a sandpit, playdough, finger painting, anything with water or arts and crafts. Initiate general conversation and you will be amazed at how they will open up.
  • Acting it out – if your little one is not a big talker, perhaps acting out their feelings might help or even do roleplay where they indirectly express their feelings through a fictional character. A toddler’s emotional intelligence is not yet fully developed, so their feelings are therefore more often expressed as a behavior rather than verbally. As parents we need to “listen” with our eyes as much as our ears.

So once you have your toddler expressing their feelings, how do you ensure that they feel comfortable to continue opening up?

  1. Trust – Your child needs to feel that they can trust you and that they can share their feelings in confidence. Foster an environment at home where your child witnesses the healthy expression and acceptance of feelings. A child will do what they know, witness and experience.
  2. A supportive response – Your response to what they share is vitally important and will influence whether they will feel comfortable to share again in the future. Be aware of your word choice, tone, body language and facial expressions. Acknowledgement and reassurance is key, making them feel safe and not alone. Give them a hug and praise them for sharing what they did!
  3. Environment– if in a public space, take your child aside to a quiet, private space. Make them feel important and your priority. If at home, choose the right time and place where distractions are minimized- be present! I find bedtime works well with my daughter. After reading her bedtime story I take the opportunity to check in with her about her day and whether there is anything she needs to talk about- good or bad.

Arnold Glasgow so wisely puts, “The best thing you can spend on your kids is time”. We need to learn to stop and listen to our children. Really listen and empathise as much as we possibly can. Making them feel that all is OK. It’s normally not about the need for a solution or a fix. They just want to be heard. Keeping in mind that: “If you didn’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they’re little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they’re big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff” – C.M. Wallace.

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