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5 TIPS TO TEACH YOUR CHILD TO DISCUSS FEELINGS

“Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.”
–Audre Lorde

When I initially meet and evaluate a child, I am first looking at their a ability to identify and express emotion. The skill of communicating feelings is the foundation for any healthy attachment; and in healing past loss, abandonment or trauma.

Anytime your child shares his or her feelings, you are a participant in his/her inner world, and in those moments they are allowing you to understand their joys, sorrows, fears, and frustrations. Those are often prime times to build secure (healthy) attachment.

There are many reasons why children have limited emotional skills: a past history of neglect or abuse; a parent who believes the child is too young to learn emotional language; the child may not like to share feelings; or the parents themselves may not be gifted in this area. No matter the cause, you and your child can learn steps to improve emotional expression. This is an area of practice and anyone can improve these skills. Let me share some specific strategies:

1. Teach your child the primary feeling words: happy, sad, mad, scared and loving. Write each feeling word on a piece of paper, and go over them with your child. (For elementary age and younger, draw a feeling face picture next to the corresponding feeling word.) Post the paper in an eye-catching spot in your home like the fridge or the back of a door.

2. Help your child learn which facial expression matches each feeling word. For example, on your face show your child a smile and raised eyebrows display happy feelings whereas a furrowed brow and tight mouth display mad feelings. Make it a game! Take turns showing a feeling face; allow the other person to guess which feeling face is demonstrated. To keep your child’s attention, keep score and award a small prize or treat to the winner.

3. Encourage your child to express his or her feelings. Include verbal and nonverbal forms of communication. Some nonverbal ways to share feelings include: writing, painting, or drawing. Many families implement a special alone time with their child to talk about feelings. As you begin the practice, ask your child to complete a sentence, such as: Today I feel happy/sad/mad/scared because . . .

4. Ask your child to communicate his feelings in the moment. When you notice your child experiencing feelings ask, “How are you feeling?” or simply, “What’s going on? It seems like something’s bothering you?” If he or she is unsure point it out to him/her, ie: “I see your big smile, are you happy?”

5. Give Positive reinforcement for sharing. Even if your child isn’t accurate at first, recognize his or her attempts with praise. Remember, just like any new skill, time and practice improve performance.

I discuss these skills more in depth as well as additional strategies in chapter 9 of my book, The Adoptive & Foster Parent Guide: How to Heal Your Child’s Trauma and Loss. 

I’d love to hear your comments, questions, or requests for new blog posts!

Carol Lozier is a therapist, author, and blogger specializing in trauma; and adoptive and foster kids, teens, and adults. Ms. Lozier is in private practice in Louisville, KY.

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