How to talk to your child about feelings

Talking about feelings can help us take care of our emotional wellbeing. Start having conversations early with your child about how they feel, and you can prepare them to better manage their own mental and emotional wellbeing in the future.

It can help them learn how to make sense of their feelings, and work through any difficult emotions. Remember that talking about feelings isn’t always easy for everyone - it may take practice.

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Create space to talk                                                                                                                       

Make sure your child knows they can talk to you when they need to. Start by creating a comfortable environment where it’s natural to talk about feelings.

Try to get into the habit of asking your child about their day. Get them to tell you what happened and how it made them feel. Help them to spot positive and negative feelings. See if together you can find a way to turn a negative thought into a positive one.

You can also guide them to understand how their thoughts are linked to their emotions - use the ‘1 + 2 = 3’ method to help.

Help them recognise their emotions

Help your child to find a way in to their feelings. Get them to notice any physical signs first - do they feel relaxed and happy or do they feel tense?  What do they sense in their body that could be related?

Ask them what the reason could be for their feelings. Maybe it relates to something good that happened that day, a decision they need to make, or an issue at school.

By supporting them to find the cause, they can better make sense of their feelings. Let them know that it’s OK to experience both positive and negative emotions and help them find the words to express them.

Put thoughts and feelings into words

Experiment with how you learn to discuss feelings together. As well as talking, your child might like to jot down their feelings each day.

This way you can both keep track of how they are managing. Once feelings are vocalised or written down on paper, they become a shared talking point that you can help your child to deal with.

Sharing the thoughts behind their feelings through problem-solving is also a natural way for you to bond with your child.

Find healthy ways to express emotions

When you’ve helped your child to talk about and identify their feelings, suggest healthy ways to express them. This could be through music, painting and drawing, acting or making films. Let your child make suggestions of what they enjoy, but feel free to offer a little guidance.

If they like music, for example, get them to think about what they play when they’re happy. How does it make them feel? Then ask them to compare it to the music they play when they feel less good. Encourage them to play positive music when they are feeling sad - it may help them to change how they feel.

Explore different types of expression

If your child isn’t sure how to express themselves, you might want to suggest some ideas. Try using a pack of felt tip pens and using different colours for different feelings. Or make a texture bag with materials like sandpaper, felt, sacking, fur and silk inside that your child can use to identify moods.

You could also draw a set of faces to represent different emotions for your child to use to tell you how they feel. Ask them to stick the faces into a book with a brief description of the feeling, the thought behind it, and any event that triggered the thought.

Encourage them to be open to trying new things, reassuring them not to feel any pressure - it’s enough just to explore their feelings and be open to learning.