Children often struggle with explaining their feelings, and therefore act out inappropriately. Until children reach the age of about 12, they do not have the cognitive reasoning skills required to recognize and verbally discuss what they feel.
A very simple and practical way to assist your child in communicating what they are feeling is a Feelings Chart. A Feelings Chart shows different feelings that your child may feel throughout the day and the days of the week. It can be made on posterboard or cardboard with markers, colored pencils or crayons. The faces can be hand drawn on construction paper or you can use garage sale pricing stickers for ease of sticking them on the chart.
A Feelings Chart can be created with the child to reflect his/her personality and interests. Encourage your child to be involved in the design process and ask what feelings should be included. Allow the child to decorate the chart as they wish- it is their feeling chart!
After the chart is completed, hang it in the child’s room and decide when you are going to review your child’s chart with him/her. Many find that right before bed is a nice close to the day and allows bonding between you and the child each night. Explain that at any time throughout the day, your child can choose to put a face on the chart describing how he/she feels.
Your child may only choose one face during the day or may choose many. The key is not in how many feelings are expressed, but rather that the child learns to associate feelings with words. Your role as a parent going over the feelings of the day is not to change the way they felt about a situation or try to pacify their emotions. Instead, practice reflecting their feelings back to them and validating their emotions. An example is “You were really angry about that” or “That made you very excited!”. Try to match your tone to their feeling. Another way to process their feelings can also be “I wonder what would have made that less scary” (or hurtful, etc.) or “I wonder what feelings go with the one you felt” (happy with excited, angry with sad, etc.).
Here are some examples and links that may help you further understand how a Feelings Chart works:
Here is another resource for neutral faces that you would want to offer for the chart. http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/modules/2006/feelingchart.pdf
If you want faces good for girls, there is this option as well. http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/modules/2006/feelingchart-flower.pdf
A Feelings Chart is helpful to you and your child in many ways, but creating a special time with him/her to debrief about the day is useful for communication, bonding and mutual understanding. Feel free to share your own feelings throughout the day with your child… maybe you can both learn to recognize and acknowledge feelings together!