Teaching Feelings Builds Emotional Maturity

When children can identify and name their feelings, they will be better equipped to make choices based on the values and feeling. Helping children to identify their primary feelings can assist them in making better decisions.

Children can typically have difficulty describing their feelings. They often learn them from having books read to them or watching television. When I coach parents on behavioral issues, I typically teach them the power behind knowing the five primary feelings. Parents are often times confused because they know that there is a myriad of feelings that children can choose. I say keep it simple.

All feelings fall under the umbrella of these 5 primary feelings:

  • Anger

  • Sadness

  • Happiness

  • Fear

  • Loneliness

With small children I make it easier and ask them to identify them by the following:

  • Mad

  • Sad

  • Glad

  • Afraid

  • Lonely

Since the first three rhyme, kids can easily remember the “famous five feelings”.

I teach parents that any emotion can be reduced to any of these “famous five feelings”. The difficult task is asking kids to pick the predominant feeling. I urge the parents to repeat the “famous five” until the child repeats the five feelings back readily. I then ask the parents to use reflective listening and repeat back the specific situation that is occurring in the child’s life to reinforce those feelings.

For example, your child comes home from kindergarten and says that Susie won’t play with her during circle time. You would then need to ask your child how being left out makes her feel? In this situation your child might complain that she feels sad, mad and lonely. You would then ask your daughter which feeling does she feel the most? She might end up telling you that she feels sad. You would then repeat back the incident “Sounds like you felt sad because Susie wouldn’t play with you.

This basic interchange helps the child to determine her primary feeling so that she can decide how she wants to handle the situation. (It is an interesting phenomenon: female children typically feel sadness when the real feeling is anger. Male children typically report anger when the uncomfortable feeling is generally fear or sadness.)

When kids learn to identify their feelings, they are more likely to feel a sense of clarity which builds their sense of self and confidence. This process opens the door for brainstorming how kids can get their needs met and ultimately learn processes like compromise and negotiation, assertiveness and communication which empowers them to feel more secure when they are in relationship with others.

By identifying the "primary" feeling they are less likely to feel

flooded with feelings which can confuse them.

Help your kids to learn their feelings early. If you make it a game to quiz them about the “famous five feelings” you will find that they not only start identifying their feelings readily, but they start quizzing their friends about their feelings too! It also gives you the opportunity to role play how you are feeling so a secondary gain is teaching them empathy skills too.

Teaching feelings helps to empower kids to make healthier decisions because it moves them into knowing themselves and what they want which then moves them into action. This process teaches them how to be clear and direct with others and to role model how to be a person that kids can trust.

Have fun with this process and watch your child learn emotional maturity that all started with feeling identification.

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