Teaching Our Kids About Feelings

As I was rocking and singing with our daughter before bed tonight, she told me, “Mommy, I sad”. So I asked her why she was sad, and she replied, “Actually (yes, our two-year-old says actually), I angy.” Hmmm – my first instinct was to burst out with “Oh, don’t be angry, sweetie!”. But I stopped myself and said, “It’s ok to feel angry.  Everyone feels angry sometimes.”  Then I asked her why she was angry, and she mumbled something into my shoulder, and I hugged her. Finally I followed up by telling her that while it’s ok to be angry, it’s not a very nice feeling and after we’re done being angry, we should let it go.  She nodded and said, “Yeah, it’s heavy!”.  Wow – so my two-year old understands in some way the burden that an emotion like anger can place on us.   My mind was just a little bit blown.  Luckily by that point, she seemed more calm and in a better mood, and we went back to singing our bedtime songs.

Grouchy Photo By Greg Westfall on Flickr via PhotoPin

photo credit: greg westfall. via photopin cc

This exchange made me ponder the issue of talking about feelings with our kids. It seems we place great importance on everything being “great!”, “happy!”, or some other positive exclamation, even when we really truly don’t feel so fabulous at that moment.  We put on our “game face”, we “buck up”.  And in the same vein, we often admonish our kids with “Don’t be sad, smile!”, “Stop being grumpy”, and “Don’t be angry!”

But I want my children to be able to verbalize their feelings so they can get to wrap their brain around what’s happening, and understand themselves better.  And I also don’t want to invalidate a real emotion that they have by pooh-pooing it as if it didn’t matter or as if it weren’t real.  I’ve been trying to stop those knee-jerk responses and instead, give my kids the vocabulary they need to say how they feel.

  • I feel frustrated
  • I feel angry
  • I’m tired
  • I’m grumpy
  • I feel sad
  • I feel happy
  • I love you
  • I don’t like that

Aside from being a great lesson in vocabulary, this has led to interesting discussions with the almost-six-year-old on the finer points of some of these definitions.  For example, the difference between frustration and anger – he gets it!  And I’m proud of our toddler for her ability to tell me what she feels … maybe not instead of screaming (because she still shrieks like a banshee!), but along with screaming, she can tell me why.

How does your family handle feelings?  Are you ‘talkers’ or more the ‘keep it inside’ types?  Please comment and share!


DecaturMamaofTwo is a Gemini, a reader, a linguist, and a recently-inspired runner. She is mama to two kids (almost six, and two) and married to a very patient man. Some of her favorites include reading, laughing, eating chocolate and a-hah moments. Her secret vice is reading trashy romances. Currently she is teaching high school French.

greg westfall. via photopin cc

3 Replies to “Teaching Our Kids About Feelings”

  1. Love this! I grew up hearing a lot of “don’t feel ___” or “you shouldn’t/have no reason to feel ___.” It’s BS. I want my kids to know it’s ok to feel whatever — and verbalize it, as you said.

    The best part? IT’S WORKING, Y’ALL! My kindergartener now can say (ok, sometimes *very loudly*), “I don’t like that! It makes me sad and mad!” My preschooler often will say “Being sleepy is making me grumpy.”

    Great to see I’m not the only mama who makes a big deal about validating kids’ feelings. 🙂

  2. Hey Jessica – glad I’m not the only one either! 😉 I think it’s such a great tool to give our little ones the right ways to express themselves verbally about their emotions.

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