It is no easy thing for adults to understand the feelings in themselves and others. For children, it can be even more difficult. Those on the autism spectrum have a particularly hard time recognizing emotions and knowing what to do with them. However, guidance and understanding can go a long way in teaching a child self awareness and compassion. Here is a look at some of the ways to help children understand feelings in themselves and others.
Call it out
Beginning with toddlers, identify emotions with them. If they are frustrated, tell them "You seem frustrated, can I help you?" When they do something that makes you smile, tell them that you feel happy. This will set the stage for learning how to recognize emotions.
Give them Tools
Another important step is to offer them tools beyond tantrums when they have emotions. Tell them when they are upset that they seem disappointed and that you feel better after a hug when you are disappointed. This will teach them that it's okay to be upset, and that there are good ways to deal with it that really do make them feel better. Time outs can also be less about time and more about change in mood. If you tell them that they can get up when they calm down and are ready to apologize, it makes them and not you responsible for their moods.
Teach your Children their effects on Others' Feelings
It is one thing for a child to understand their own feelings, but quite another to help them to understand when their choices impact the feelings of their friends and loved ones. If you have this problem with siblings, work with them to help make the other one feel better when they are sad. This is especially effective after they fight. If one makes the other cry, talk to that child about how they might make their brother or sister feel better, and then let them take the lead. Be certain to praise them and lavish attention when they do work to make the other feel better, because that will lead to noticing and wanting to help habitually.
Mixed and Differing Feelings
Probably the two most complicated feeling types that kids have a hard time understanding are differing and mixed feelings. Differing feelings are usually a better one to start with, because the idea that something might make one person happy and another unhappy is an easy lesson for which to find examples. Telling a child that one person may like something and another might not, but both things are okay will go a long way in letting them make their own choices despite peer pressure. Teaching them that it's also normal to feel both happy and sad at once can also be hard, but if you have laid the groundwork well for identifying and communicating emotions, it will become something you can work on together.