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

By Cary Zavala/

five protective factors

What makes your family STRONG? Research shows that when these 5 Protective Factors are well established, family strength and optimal child development emerge:

1)   Parental Resilience

2)   Social Connections

3)   Knowledge of Parenting & Child Development

4)   Concrete Support in Times of Need

5)   Social & Emotional Competence of Children

December’s Early Childhood Educational Series focused on factor #5: Developing Social & Emotional Competence of Children. Despite very cold temperatures and somewhat slick road conditions, this Parent Network Series packed a full house! Clearly this is a hot topic, and one of the biggest challenges of parenting.

The topic of the evening was teaching young children how to deal with mad feelings. Emotional regulation is an important skill for all children to learn. In order for children to better manage their behavior when they are experiencing strong feelings, they must learn:

  1. how to notice and label their feelings
  2. things they can do to help manage feelings and behaviors

crying little boy pixibayAnd they need our help! It is never too early to talk to children about feelings or to help them see the link between feelings and behavior. When children are taught how to regulate their emotions at an early age, they feel better about the choices they make. Feeling disappointment and anger is a natural reaction to some of the experiences we encounter in everyday life. Teaching children how to effectively manage these emotions 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 we covered:

  • Parents play an important role in teaching their children about emotions. MODELING is an important teaching strategy. Children learn much by watching and listening to how WE deal with emotions!
  • A “Feelings Thermometer” and “Feelings Chart” 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.
  • These body “clues” can help children learn and practice 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, “Llama Llama Mad at Mama” (thank you Great Start!) as well as examples of how to use books, puppets, toys and games they may have at home 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 offering recognition and positive feedback 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!

Cary-Z-photo-274x300Cary Zavala

… is a licensed professional counselor and a skilled parenting educator. Cary is joining with Lenawee Great Start in presenting a series of Parent Education talks during the 2017-2018 year (register here to attend!).

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