Helping your child calm down and say what he's thinking can stop a temper tantrum.

How to Teach Children to Put Feelings Into Words

by Shelley Frost

Those temper tantrums your child has often signal more than just the need to scream. Kids can have difficulty expressing their feelings in words, instead using their actions to tell the story. While frustrating, you can use your child's moments of anger as a way to teach her how to say what's on her mind. With practice, she learns the vocabulary she needs to express her emotions. Giving your child the tools to express herself may even help cut down on temper tantrums and meltdowns.

Teach words for emotions beyond happy, sad and mad. These words are general in nature and don't help your child accurately say how she feels. Gradually add words, such as proud, brave, excited, loving, relieved, shy, scared, disappointed, frustrated and embarrassed, to your child's vocabulary.

Talk about different situations and how they might make someone feel to help your child understand the differences in the new emotion words she's learning. Say, "Sometimes when I walk into a room of people I don't know I feel shy. I'm not sure what to do when everyone looks at me and no one looks familiar. I'm sometimes not sure what to say. Do you ever feel shy?"

Practice identifying emotions that other people are feeling. Ask your child how she thinks a person in a picture is feeling. If you see another child expressing a strong emotion, point it out. You might say, "That child seems really frustrated that she can't get her shoes on herself. She's throwing a fit and not letting her mommy help her. What do you think she could do instead when she feels frustrated?"

Play pretend to practice responding to different emotions. Tell your child, "Pretend your friend just knocked down your block tower. Let's act out how you would react."

Say how you're feeling to model sharing feelings. You might say, "I'm feeling disappointed. I was supposed to see a friend today, but she couldn't make it." Express both positive and negative feelings. Say, "I feel excited today about our trip to the park. I can't wait to get ice cream afterward!"

Point out emotions you notice from your child's behavior. Say, "It looks like you got a little embarrassed when your brother made fun of you in front of his friends. Do you want to talk about it?"

Watch for signs of frustration or an oncoming temper tantrum. Help your child pinpoint her feelings before the situation escalates to a complete meltdown. Think about what emotion may be behind the outburst. Say, "I see you're getting very upset. Are you scared about something?" Suggesting the emotion word may help your child realize what's really going on.

Talk to your child after an emotional outburst. Discussing the situation once he is calm allows you to better explain the emotion to him. Brainstorm ideas for how to handle the situation better the next time.

About the Author

Based in the Midwest, Shelley Frost has been writing parenting and education articles since 2007. Her experience comes from teaching, tutoring and managing educational after school programs. Frost worked in insurance and software testing before becoming a writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with a reading endorsement.

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