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Understanding Your Child’s Emotions – A guide for parents & carers

  • Date published:

  • Author: ssutton

Children need to understand and be able to manage their emotions so that they communicate, build relationships and manage challenging times. They need to understand why they might feel an emotion and make links with how the think and feel. They need to be able to manage their behaviour at times when they have strong feelings and to know when to ask for help. Parents and carers need to be the best role models for their children and help their child to recognise and manage their emotions. Here are some top tips and advice to help you support your child. Below you can watch our workshop online.

What do we mean by emotions and emotional health?

We can all experience a range of emotions. There is no such thing as a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ emotion. It is normal and healthy for us to feel a range of emotions. If someone hurts us we might feel angry. If someone tells us we have done well then we might feel happy or proud.

Our emotions, how we think and how we behave (what we do) are all linked. We often notice how we feel (our emotion) before we notice what we are thinking or how we react (behave) to that feeling. This is no different for children. Children experience the same complex emotions that we do as adults. When a child can make the link between their thoughts, their emotions and their behaviour, they are less likely to struggle when difficult emotions occur.

Younger children usually do not have the vocabulary to talk about how they are feeling. Instead they communicate their feelings in other ways. They can express their feelings through facial expressions, through their body, their behaviour and play. Sometimes they may act out their feelings in physical, inappropriate or problematic ways. So, it is important to help children learn to recognise a feeling, name the emotion and manage how they react to that emotion. They need to learn to express their emotions and manage them in a positive way so they keep themselves and other safe, they build their self esteem and their confidence.

It is important to recognise that we are all different. Adults and children can be in the same situation however view that situation in very different ways. This might lead them to think, feel and behave very differently from each other in that same situation. Or, they may have the same emotional reaction to a situation however might think about it in a different way and behave in a different way. Emotions are complex!

What are the benefits of children learning to express & manage their emotions in a positive & healthy way?

Children who learn to manage their emotions usually have better outcomes such as:

  • Be emphatic and supportive of others
  • Perform better in school and their career
  • Have more positive and stable relationships
  • Have good mental health and wellbeing
  • Display less behavioural problems
  • Develop resilience and coping skills
  • Feel more competent, capable and confident
  • Have a positive sense of self

What effects children’s emotions?

Anything and everything. Children, like adults have emotional reactions to all situations. Children might have more negative emotions such as anger, frustration, unhappiness, worry when times are more challenging. It is normal to experience more negative emotions during times of change such as moving house, loss or death, divorce, changing schools. Lack of sleep, feeling unwell and a parents own emotional state can affect a child’s emotions.

How can we help children to understand their emotions? Top Tips

  • Help a child to learn to name a feeling and own that feeling… “i am feeling…..”
  • Once a child recognises the emotion that they are feeling then help them to explore what might have triggered that feeling.
  • Take time to listen and chat and during the conversation talk about the emotions that you are seeing….” you are playing nicely with your toys, you look very happy”
  • Normalise feelings. For example, If a child is sad because they have fallen out with their best friend then perhaps say ” You look sad, it is OK to feel sad. Other children might feel sad if they had fallen out with their friend”
  • Explore helpful ways of managing a feeling. If a child is angry they might hit out at something or someone but help them to find another way to deal with their anger that does not hurt themselves or others.

Finding ways to deal with negative feelings

One way to help your child to manage their emotion is to help your child create a story about a negative feeling by asking them what happened, what they thought, what they felt (including feelings in their body) and what they did or thought next. This approach works especially well with younger children, who need more prompts to help tell the story of their feelings in small steps. You can also help your child share their feelings by talking openly about your own emotions and how you deal with them.

Check out this page ‘How are you feeling today’ for more ideas and tips

There are lots of activities that you can do with you child on the Health for Kids site on the ‘feelings’ pages – check them out!

Where can I go if I think that my child needs further help?

Sometimes a child does need a little more help,. Perhaps they are feeling worried, anxious, low in mood and you are worried that they need a little extra support. The School Nursing provide additional support to children, young people and families. We run parenting groups and children’s and adults resilience/self esteem groups. This are free to access and you can find out more by speaking to a School Nurse on our Single Point of Access 01922 423349 or checking out our page about emotional health and wellbeing support. You can also speak to your child’s GP who can explore whether support is needed from services such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services CAMHS.


Our parent/carer workshops – Understanding your child’s emotions

The School Nursing services deliver workshops which explain about children’s emotional development. They cover stages of development, what affects a child’s emotions and tips about how you can help your child to recognise and manage their emotions. We talk about anxiety, low mood and self esteem and some ways that children and adults can look after their emotional health. There is time for parents to ask questions and to find out what further support might be available. These workshops are free of charge and delivered in local venues in Walsall. To book a place please call our single point of access on 01922 423349. If you prefer to can watch our Understanding your child’s emotions workshop on line .