From anger and frustration to worry, excitement and jealousy – kids can experience a range of complex feelings just like adults do.
The difference is they usually don’t have the words or emotional skills to manage their feelings and this may lead to them behaving in a problematic way.
Learning to identify, express and manage feelings in a healthy way is an important part of a child’s development and leads to positive attitudes and behaviours later in life.
Kids aren’t born with the ability to manage their feelings. They learn how to do that through their interactions with important people in their lives such as parents, carers and grandparents.
Learning how to manage feelings in a healthy way doesn’t happen overnight – it takes time, practice and patience.
Here are some top tips to help support tamariki with their feelings:
1. Be a good role model
Children watch and learn how to express their feelings from the adults around them. Make sure you’re managing your own feelings in a healthy way and by being a good role model. For example, if you feel upset about losing your keys, say out loud, “I’m upset I lost my keys” then model a healthy way to react such as taking deep breaths and calmly looking for them.
2. Name the feeling
Help your child name the emotion they are feeling, eg, happy, jealous, frustrated or sad. Naming feelings is the first step towards helping kids understand how they’re feeling and helps them build a list of those words to use. This helps them express themselves and then understand why they are feeling that way. For example, “I’m feeling sad because nobody will play with me”.
3. Accept their feelings
It’s important to let kids experience the whole range of human emotions. Try not to make light of or dismiss what they’re feeling by saying they are being silly or over-reacting. Resist the urge to make their bad feelings go away. Instead support them to identify and express their feelings so they feel heard and understood.
4. Recognise other people’s feelings
Help your child recognise the feelings in others so they can learn to understand and share feelings (empathise). Encourage them to think about how someone else is feeling and why. Reading picture books provides an opportunity to talk about feelings and it helps kids learn to recognise feelings through facial expressions.
5. Praise don’t punish
Praise your child when they talk about their feelings or express them in a healthy way. This lets them know it’s OK to talk about feelings and it also reinforces their behaviour so they are more likely to do it again. Don’t punish them for “bad” emotions as this stops them expressing their emotions and they may bottle things up which can lead to meltdowns.
6. Teach some coping strategies
You can teach, and model, some ways for your tamariki to manage their emotions. For example, show them how to take deep breaths to help them calm down. Encourage them to take some time out by themselves and find a quiet place to relax.
7. Give them a hug
Never underestimate the power of a hug or cuddle if your child is feeling upset. Tamariki need to feel bonded and connected to the adults in their lives and hugging has been shown to help regulate emotions.
These videos help tamariki learn about connecting with themselves, others and the environment and to learn how to respond to their emotions.
Mauri Tau therapeutic story for tamariki
(He Paiaka Totara, NZ, 2022)
Kei whea a Mauri Tau – Reo Māori
(He Paiaka Totara, NZ, 2022)
- Supporting tamariki with their feelings Brainwave, NZ
- Helping kids identify and express feelings Kids Helpline, AUS
- How to teach kids about their feelings Very Well Family, US, 2020
- 5 ways to help children identify and express their emotions Mindchamps, Singapore, 2017