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Help your child understand emotions

Maria Mora is a freelance writer and single mom fueled by coffee, questionable time management skills, toaster oven waffles and the color orange. She lives in Florida with her two young sons. If you see her on Twitter, tell her to stop p...

Simple expressions for complicated feelings

Most children go from zero to temper tantrum without pausing to express feelings in a rational way. While there's no fool proof way to teach kids to communicate, you can work with your child to understand feelings like anger and frustration.

Learn to how your child overcome bad feelings and move on to better times.

Have you ever felt so angry or frustrated that you just wanted to throw something? You probably found a reasonably socially acceptable way to blow off some steam. Young kids face anger and frustration every day, from issues like having a hard time tying shoelaces to not being allowed to play video games on a school night. Negative emotions can feel big and overwhelming, and many children struggle to find the right way to express those emotions and come down from them. Learn how to help your child understand and express emotions.

Set an example

When you're driving with your kids, narrate the emotions you're going through. Maybe a light turns red, or someone cuts you off. You can say, "That car made me feel so frustrated. I'm going to take a deep breath and try to calm down." If plans change and you're disappointed, share those feelings with your kids in basic, obvious terms. It may feel silly to talk about your feelings as if you are a young child, but it will help your kids learn ways to talk about how they feel. Try not to lose your temper in front of your children. At the same time, don't bottle up emotions. Let your kids see you sad or frustrated. Talk them through your process of calming down.

Use tools and games

Work with your young kids to put together a feelings chart. You can purchase a feelings chart online or create one yourself. It doesn't have to be elaborate. In fact, most use very basic smiley faces like the ones you may have seen on a doctor's pain scale chart. For anger and frustration, try drawing or printing a picture of a cartoon thermometer. Let your child color it in with colors that represent emotions. Talk about how the "hot" temperature is really mad and angry, and how the "cool" temperature might be frustrated or just a little angry. Help your child draw faces to represent sadness, fear, embarrassment, frustration, anger and disappointment. Don't be afraid to use big words as your child learns to distinguish one "bad" emotion from another. If necessary, your child can reference the charts to communicate about feelings.

Help kids wind down

Once your child begins identifying emotions, it's easier to soothe and calm those big feelings. Begin developing strategies that work for your child and her individual fears, anxieties and frustrations. For some kids, it may be simple to pick up good coping habits. Other kids may struggle with coping with emotions all the time. Be prepared for slow progress and a lot of guidance. Come up with fun ways to blow off steam, like jumping up and down. Try reading books like Cool Cats, Calm Kids by Mary Williams and When Sophie Gets Angry by Molly Bang. Work with your child to brainstorm places to safely and appropriately wind down at home and at school.

Discover how to help your angry child >>

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