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How to Help Your Child Identify Feelings – Tips for Parents

Did you know that you have the secret code that will help you better understand and manage your child’s difficult feelings? It’s YOU! You can use your own feelings as a way to connect to and empathize with strong emotions emitted by your child.

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Children experience a wide range of feelings just like adults. But they don’t come equipped with the ability to articulate or identify them so they often only express a much narrower range. Anger can be camouflaged embarrassment and what looks like excitement can really be nervousness. You may think that you need a decoder ring to figure out what your children are really feeling underneath, but you have the answer right at your finger tips. You can use yourself and your own feelings as a barometer of what your children are feeling and why they are behaving the way they are.

Children have an uncanny ability to transfer their feelings to another individual – even if those feelings are ones that they cannot express or recognize themselves. For example, if you are feeling overwhelmed with your child’s behavior, it is quite possible that he is feeling overwhelmed by something himself. He may just not know it. Using your feelings to help your children understand and express their own can take some practice.  You can use the following steps as a general guide.

1.  Make sure your feelings don’t stem from something else

If you are feeling frustrated with your child, take a moment to self-asses.  Ask yourself, “Am I frustrated for any other reason?”  “Am I still reacting to the fact that the bank lost my check?” You want to make sure your own feelings are not clouding your interpretation of your child’s.

2.  Correctly identify the feeling you are having

Take a moment to identify the feeling you are having. Is it really anger or is it something more complex (it usually is). You want to make sure you have a good handle on your feelings so that you can help your child with his.

3.  Explore with your child

You may not always be accurate in your assessment, no matter how careful you are. This is where it will be helpful to explore with your child.  You can use language like:  “It seems like . . .” or “I might be wrong, but . . .”  This tentative way of exploration gives your child permission to disagree.  You do want to gently nudge towards an identification of the right feeling, however. To that end, you can say something like, “You are acting very angry right now, but I am wondering if you are really more overwhelmed with all that is going on.” You can then speculate about the events in his or her life that may be contributing to such a feeling.

4.  Employ a feelings chart

A feelings chart like this one can be really helpful in educating children about the wide range of feelings. The overly dramatized faces help children to more easily distinguish between the different feeling states. You may find it to be a helpful tool in working with your children on this issue.

Using your own feelings to explore your child’s has benefits. Once identified, you will likely see a softening in your child. Feelings are very powerful. Unidentified feelings can be scary. Helping your child to navigate through this unfamiliar territory will build skills that he or she will use for a long time to come.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

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About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker who offers individual therapy to women and moms in Connecticut. She is the author of More Than a Conqueror, A Christian Kid's Guide to Winning the War on Worry. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of the things she is most passionate about: God's word, parenting and mental health.

1 Comment

  • I wish I would of found you when my kids were younger😞My son I just turned 15.He has ADHD and often expresses anger for really no reason.We moved to a different state 5 yrs ago and I think that had a big effect on both my children.He also has auditory processing .Do you think the anger can come from that as well.What kind of treatment do yuh think will help him to be able to control it and even express himself to me?Is there specialist that would be able to help me?

    • Hi Katrina,
      Thanks for stopping by and reaching out. An auditory processing disorder is a challenging condition, especially in a traditional school environment. I assume he is receiving services and modifications within the classroom such as repetition, visual aids, recordings etc. To have to work so hard all day long to hear and comprehend what is being taught must be exhausting. And possibly embarrassing given his age. I suspect the anger stems from some of that. It sounds like he could benefit from some tools and skills to manage his feelings. In my opinion, DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) would be a great model of counseling for him to try. It is very concrete, present focused and skill-oriented. Some clinics offer groups as part of DBT treatment, but given his auditory processing issues, that may prove to be more difficult than helpful. You can read about the helpfulness of DBT for kids with ADHD here. And you can search for a trained DBT therapist in your area here. You can search by your zipcode.

      I hope that helps. All the best,

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