How To Help Your Child Understand Their Feelings

Dad helps daughter understand her feelings

Reading time: 5 minutes

Suitable for: Families with children of primary-aged children

Have you ever woken up in a bad mood but you don’t know why? You stomp around the house, a deep frown etched across your forehead, snapping at anyone who happens to cross your path. Your head is pounding and you can feel a knot in the pit of your stomach. You feel ‘off’ and irritable, but you just can’t put your finger on the reason why.

Feelings are complex—it’s that simple! Even as adults, many of us struggle to express ourselves or truly understand how we feel most of the time, so imagine how hard it is for a 5-year-old or a 9-year-old to comprehend and manage their own emotions.

Yet as parents, we often expect our children to know how they feel and why they behave as they do—even when we can’t do this ourselves!

Putting feelings into words

From a very young age, we teach children words like ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ to describe how they feel and in early childhood, they apply these terms to virtually every situation. For example, if their pet is poorly, or their friend leaves them out of a game, they might say they feel sad. Or if it’s their birthday, or they are going swimming after school, they might say they feel happy. This limited vocabulary is totally age-appropriate and covers most eventualities during the early years.

However, as children grow older, and begin to experience more complex feelings and emotions, they need to extend their emotional vocabulary - nervous, excited, embarrassed, ashamed, disappointed, frustrated, shy and so on – and understand how to recognise and deal with these feelings as they arise.


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