Build a Skill: Teaching Young Children to Deal with Mad Feelings

By Cary Zavala /

Self-control is an important skill for all children to learn. It refers to having power or control over one’s
own actions. It also means that an individual knows right from wrong. If children are taught self-control at
an early age, then they will feel better about the choices they make.

If you missed November’s Early Childhood Educational Series, our topic of the evening was how to teach
young children how to deal with mad feelings. In order for children to gain control of their behavior when
they are experiencing strong feelings, they must know how to identify their feelings. It is never too early to
talk to children about feelings or to help them see the link between feelings and behavior.Feeling-Wheel

Feeling angry is a natural reaction to some of the experiences we encounter in everyday life. Teaching children how to effectively manage this emotion at an early age will improve their ability to cope and can improve tolerance and the choosing of pro-social actions to resolve problems.

Some key points:

  • Parents play an important role in teaching their children about emotions. And children learn much by watching and hearing how WE deal with emotions!
  • A “Feelings Thermometer” and “Feelings Wheel” can help parents teach children to recognize their feelings by giving them the words for emotions (e.g. sad, happy, mad, scared), an understanding of
    how the body expresses emotion (e.g. red face, clenched fists, furrowed brow, loud voice), and degrees of a feeling.relaxation-thermometer
  • These body “clues” can then lead to children learning and practicing strategies to help manage strong feelings. Strategies may include:
    • Taking a break (a “time out” from upsetting situation)
    • Belly breathing paired with counting
    • Using words to help get needs met
    • Engaging in appropriate physical outlets to get out energy
    • Selecting an appropriate option from a “Choice Wheel” and trying it out

Parents received a delightful book, “Gus Gets Mad” (thank you Great Start!) as well as encouragement to view books, puppets, and board games, as opportunities to engage and teach children about emotions. Self-control is a skill that can be taught…and like any skill, it must be practiced in order for the skill to develop. It is also helpful for parents to prepare for and help children handle possible disappointment or change, and to help them think of solutions. Equally important is to recognize and offer positive feedback and comments when children ARE demonstrating good self-control and staying calm in challenging situations.

How are you modeling and teaching your children about emotions? How can you build this into your everyday routines? When young children do not know how to identify emotions or handle disappointment and anger, a parent’s best response is to teach!

(Info taken from National Association of School Psychologists)

Lenawee Great Start is presenting a series of Parent Education talks this year by Cary Zavala, a licensed professional counselor and a skilled parenting educator. The last talk was Thursday, November 20 on the topic of “Build a Skill: Teaching Young Children to Deal with Mad Feelings”  Don’t miss our next Parent Ed Talk in February called “Find Your Peaceful Place: Peaceful Piggy Meditates” (register here to attend!).

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