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How parents can help kids understand their emotions

My work as a marriage and family therapist in Scottsdale, Arizona helps to  instill hope and change through the use of techniques including: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Parenting Skills Training, and Brief Solution focused therapy. I u...

Why teaching your kids to recognize their emotions is so important

A really great book for kids is In My Heart: A Book of Feelings, written by Jo Witek and illustrated by Christine Roussey. This vibrant, colorful and very cool looking book has a heart cutout on each page along with a discussion on feelings of the heart. The easy to read — and easy to understand — text makes this perfect for young children to learn about their own feelings and thoughts.

More: How mindfulness meditation teaches children to manage their emotions

There are so many wonderful explanations for our feelings, with great pictures to accompany them: “Eek! When I see something scary, my heart beats fast. I feel cold, as if a chilly breeze has crawled up my neck, and I run away as fast as I can. This is when my heart is afraid.” I really like the way she describes fear with the physicality of feeling cold and the heart beating faster. These are great explanations to help kids understand their own physical responses to emotions. On this particular page, the illustrator draws what "afraid" looks like.

The writer also looks at sadness and helps the child understand that sadness can occur at times: “But my heart doesn’t stay sad.” I think it's so useful that the book allows for the child to recognize that negative emotions do not have to last. The book really allows for feelings to be described in ways that teaches the child that emotions can change and move. It's descriptive and really easy to understand what each feeling means. I would also add in using this book as resource to teach young children about feelings to also learn about coping tools and emotional management skills.

More: Are your kids emotionally prepared for the school year?

Books, art and music are great tools to help children learn about emotions and understand some difficult concepts. Books, especially, are wonderful instruments as they see the pictures and process concepts that even adults have difficulty grasping.

Feelings and emotions are challenging to manage for some people, so starting to teach children when they are young will help them through the emotional development process. Being able to master emotional management is a skill they will need way into adulthood. I've written before about how sharing your own emotional language with children will help you encourage their emotional awareness.

Feeling development and learning occurs in the family and home even when a child is an infant. We can see a baby smile or cry and can know what feeling are they experiencing even though they cannot tell us verbally. (The website Zero to Three is an excellent resource for parents of little ones.) Learning about feelings and coping tools are very important topics and should be discussed often. As the child grows up, the conversation might change, but the process of being able to open up and share feelings and thoughts is so imperative for good mental health and healthy relationships.

In My Heart: A Book of Feelings is a resource on my office shelf and is often used to help teach little ones about feelings.

More: 11 picture books every preschooler will love

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