By MCHH Therapist KATIE HYNES, MA, LCSW
As a parent, it can sometimes be difficult to create a space where your child feels safe expressing their emotions. It can be difficult to figure out what your child is feeling and why they may feel that way. Sometimes, children just are not comfortable sharing how they are feeling with their parents. Other times, children do not even know what they are feeling or how to express it. This blog post will provide you some tools that you can use to both help your child identify their emotions and communicate those feelings to you.
Just like it important for children to learn how to read, write and do math problems, it is also important that children identify and express their emotions. Children who can identify and express their emotions display fewer behavior problems, do better in school, are more empathetic and supportive of others, develop healthy coping skills and resilience, have a positive self-image, have positive and stable relationships with others and have good mental health. Often times, schools incorporate social emotional learning. However, it is just as important for that to be happening at home as well.
Using an emotion-chart at home is one way of opening the lines of communication between a parent and child. It allows a child to identify for themselves how they are feeling as well as express that to their parent. If your child is struggling to communicate what is wrong, what they want and need, or how they feel, they may get frustrated. An emotion-chart can alleviate any frustration that the child might be feeling.
For younger children or children with special needs….
Below is a chart that can be used to help younger children identify what emotions they are feeling. Another chart that can be used is the “zones of regulation.” It has also been proven to help children with Autism identify and regulate their emotions. Characters from the movie Inside Out are often associated with each zone. However, emojis can also be used if your child prefers. The chart below or the “zones of regulation” is something that you could have hanging up in the house and ask your child to check in daily or multiple times per day with what feeling or zone they are in.
For your teen….
Teens benefit just as much from being able to identify and express their emotions. Below is a feelings wheel that you can use as a means to check in on what emotion your teen is feeling. This is the same concept as the chart above or the zones of regulation but has a wider array of emotions and age-appropriate vocabulary. This is also something can be posted in the home so that daily check ins can occur between teens and their parents. If it is difficult for you to converse with your teen about how they are feeling, another option could be to have this up on a dry erase board with a magnet. That way, your teen could just place the magnet on what emotion they are feeling without having to engage in a face-to-face conversation. That could be a good starting point for teens who are very uncomfortable expressing their feelings. It may take some time for your teen to get used to checking in on how they are feeling so start small and increase frequency over time. It could also helpful if everyone in the family participates by checking in on how they are feeling rather than just your child. This creates more of a safe environment to express oneself.