How do we help our children develop a healthy relationship with their emotions? By showing them how to have a curious and playful relationship with them! Instead of just saying, “It’s okay to feel sad,” we can show them it’s actually okay through our actions.
There are many fun ways to show our children that emotions are okay, welcomed, and a healthy part of life. When we practice showing our children, it gives them freedom to experience any emotion without shame, guilt, or judgment — what I call emotional freedom for our children. Emotional freedom is a gift we can give our children each and every day.
Here are five things you can do now to help your child develop a healthy and playful relationship with their emotions.
1 Create a family motto about emotions.
Get together as a family and talk about what emotions visit each of you — what they feel like, look like, and sound like. Gather ideas about how emotions will be welcomed into your home and what you believe about them as a family. This motto could look like:
- We welcome all emotions into our home, no matter how big, medium, or small.
- We believe having emotions is healthy.
- We believe it’s okay to feel messy inside — it’s what makes us human — and we commit to helping each other when we feel this way.
- When emotions visit, we support one another.
2 Use playful language when talking about emotions.
Use playful language to help emotions feel less threatening and more manageable. It also reminds us emotions are allies and a sign of health not illness. Trying saying that emotions are like:
- Visitors: They knock on our door to say hello. They visit for a bit and then go.
- Messengers: They carry important information and messages for us to learn from.
- The Weather: They’re dynamic and ever-changing. One moment the sun is out, and the next, it’s raining.
- Clues: They’re clues that something is up or needs our attention.
- Waves: They come in and then go back out, constantly moving and flowing. We can ride the wave and be okay.
3 Welcome emotions that are visiting you.
Share what emotions are visiting you and why. This shows your child that emotions are welcomed and valid. (It’s OK to feel the way I feel.) As the song goes in “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” it helps to say what you’re feeling. When Daniel, Katerina, and Prince Wednesday all feel differently about playing together, they each share their feelings (mad, happy, and sad) with each other and why. Once they've talked about their different feelings, they're able to all happily play together.
- “Excited is visiting me because we’re driving to the zoo!”
- “I’m sad. I’ll miss you while I’m traveling for work.”
- “Frustrated is visiting me because I forgot my wallet at home.”
4 Express curiosity about your body and emotions.
Share what you notice about your own body and emotions. This helps your child build their own body and emotional awareness. Show your child what it sounds like to wonder and ask yourself questions out loud:
- “Hmm, my body feels tired. I wonder why? Maybe it’s because I woke up early this morning.”
- “I notice my head hurts. I wonder why? I think I’ve been looking at my computer screen for too long.”
- “I have lots of energy in my body. I wonder why? Maybe it’s because I’m excited to see everyone at the party.”
5 Show how you shift your emotional energy.
Sometimes emotions pass through us when we’re given time and space. Other times, it’s helpful to acknowledge them in the moment and then channel that emotional energy in helpful ways. Showing our children how we do this helps them learn what to do with the energy they feel inside their body.
- “I feel frustrated because I can’t get this jar open. Maybe I can take a break or ask someone for help.” (Then either take a break or ask for help.)
- “My body feels tired, it might need some more energy. I’ll go for a run after lunch.” (Then go for a run after lunch.)
- “Ouch! I just stepped on a toy. My foot hurts. I’ll move it out of the way so nobody else steps on it.” (Then move it out of the way to a safe spot.)
Have fun practicing these ideas and see how your child responds. Each time you practice, your child is learning how to create a healthy relationship with their emotions. You’re giving them the gift of emotional freedom and that’s one of the best gifts in the world!