Understanding feelings

Every behaviour has a feeling behind it.  If we can help children understand their own feelings, it is easier for them to choose the best thing to do about it, rather than just react.  If we can help them understand other people’s feelings, then it is easier to avoid problems and have the most fun.

Here are some ideas to help with understanding feelings:

  • Establish a foundation of safety and calm:
    • make sure there is a routine time each day when the child can feel calm and safe.  This can often be good as part of a bedtime routine.  It might be a story, or a cuddle or just some quiet chill out time.
    • notice any points of the day that the child finds difficult and think how to make these smoother
    • let the child talk about any worries or bad things that have happened – but don’t force this
  • Help to learn about feelings and what they are called:
    • make a list of some feelings you’d like the child to understand, and some simple words to describe them that make sense to the child.  Don’t worry if some of these are a bit “babyish” at first.  “Bouncy” might be better than “over-excited” for example
    • use feeling language in day to day conversations: “Granny will be happy when we go round”.  “Are you looking forward to going?”  If you are describing negative feelings, (“Mummy’s worried we might be late”) make sure it is low key and solvable!
    • Use feeling words to describe what is happening for the child.  “I think you are getting bored with X, why don’t we try something else”.  “You look all excited and jumpy!”  “Are you worried about …?”
    • For both these ideas, make sure you use words the child knows!
    • Read lots of stories.  Every story has some kind of difficulty or bad feeling in it, and the story shows how this can be made better.  While you are reading, chat about the characters and what they might be thinking – see what the child thinks.  Here is one way to do this, with help from some owls!
  • If things go wrong, then use talk about feelings to explain and problem solve:
    • use constructive explanations for why other children do what they do.  “I think Sara wanted to play and was sad when she couldn’t”
    • Use feeling language to help children work out how to make things better.  “What can we do so Sara is not sad any more?