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Habitot Children's Museum

Habitot Children's Museum
2065 Kittredge Street
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 647-1111

Parenting Q&A
12 Things Great Parents Do:

Help Kids Learn to Feel Their Feelings, and Choose Their Actions

Loving our children comes naturally, but the art of parenting is a skill, and like any other skill it must be learned and practiced mindfully. Part of Habitot’s commitment to our community is to support parents in the crucial and precious task of raising young children.

For 2010-2011 we are expanding on parenting wisdom from local psychotherapist and parent coach Dr. Erica Reischer who has composed a list of “10 Things Great Parents Do.” We are adding two “great things” or our own and each month we’ll share research and our observations of tens of thousands of visiting families to illustrate how using the “great things” list will for work you and your child.

This month’s topic: Help kids learn to feel their feelings, and choose their actions.

Young children have all of the same emotions adults do. They get angry, sad, frustrated, nervous, happy and embarrassed, but rarely have the words to talk about how they are feeling. They often act out these emotions in physical and sometimes inappropriate ways.

Young children greatly benefit from gentle coaching about their strong emotions. Give children words for what they are feeling. They will learn to identify the feelings when they have them and eventually will be able to state, “I am feeling mad now.” This is a huge improvement over physically acting out angry feelings.

Parents can also coach young children in how to respond appropriately (versus react negatively) to strong feelings. Parents should be clear that it’s OK for children to feel whatever their children are feeling but that it isn’t OK to follow their feelings into actions like hitting and yelling – or even shouting too exuberantly when they are happy. Never say, “stop being mad, unhappy or worried,” for example, but acknowledge the feelings and focus on appropriate responses. Seemingly placid children also need acceptance of their feelings and coaching on ways to express them lest they turn them inward in potentially self-destructive ways.

One of the most critical skills young children must learn is self-control. Self-control means being able to express and cope with strong emotions in appropriate ways—for a toddler, this may mean saying, “I’m mad at you” instead of biting. Self-control also involves thinking skills, which develop over time, as we decide which of our impulses to act on and how. Young children can learn that all of their emotions are valid, and with your coaching can develop skills and strategies for responding to stressful situations in ways that will be better for everyone.

Here are some tips on helping your kids choose their actions:

    • Let your child know that you recognize her feelings by helping her name them. When adults provide words for the emotions that they believe infants and toddlers are experiencing, it gives children the language to describe their feelings.
    • As you read children’s books together, talk about the feelings the characters of the book are experiencing. Help your child notice the character’s body language, relate to specific emotions from their own experiences, and think about solutions for difficult situations.
    • Talk to your child about different ways you deal with specific feelings, and model appropriate behavior. When you get upset, let your child know that you are taking a deep breath to calm yourself down, and talk through ideas on how to handle the problem.
    • Give your child opportunities to choose. Giving children simple choices lets them know you trust them to make good decisions. It also helps them feel in control. Let your child make decisions about what to play, what to read, or what to have for snack (give him two healthy snacks to choose from).
    • If your child is young, telling him what to do to express big emotions is helpful. If he is hitting you or a friend, for example, an alternative is to give him something soft to hit instead. As you child gets older, encourage him to think about what else he can do to express or diffuse his emotions.
    • Praise your child when she talks about her feelings. Let your child know exactly what she did right and how proud you are of her for talking about feelings. It should always be OK to say what we are feeling. How we choose to show our feelings and respond to them is what takes special effort.

To see the complete list of “10 Things Great Parents Do” or to learn more about Dr. Erica Reischer, please visit her website at www.DrEricaR.com. You can also get a hard copy of the handout in the purple parenting cart in the museum.

Parenting Resources

Teaching Your Child Discipline and Self-Control. 2001. Zero to Three Web Site: http://main.zerotothree.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ter_key_social_selfcontrol&AddInterest=1157

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids. Vanderbilt University. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning Web Site: http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/resources/family.html

Adams, Emily J. Teaching Children To Name Their Feelings. May 2011. Young Children.
Download PDF here: http://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/201105/Naming_Feelings_RocknRoll_OnlineMay2011.pdf

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