Sometimes adults have difficulties in understanding and helping children with handling their emotions. The younger children are, the more difficult it is for them to name a feeling, to accept it and to find strategies to cope with it.

As adults, we can help them through this process by trying a number of strategies.

With younger children, the aim is to help them normalize their emotions and help them get used to it. Imagine being entirely overwhelmed by a new feeling – what would you need help with?

  1. Understanding what it is (and why it is occurring);
  2. Figuring out if this happens to any other people;
  3. Figuring out a way to manage it (because it is usually the unpleasant feelings that need managing and coping skills);

How do we do help children?

The first step is to make a list of feelings together with your child and have them draw faces or even full figurines representing that specific feeling. Encourage them to use bold colors and make the facial expressions exaggerated in order for them to fully associate the feelings with their own visual representation of them.

If your child is particularly open to this activity, have them mimic that feeling with their body – this will help them further understand that emotions are expressed through the body as well.

The second step is to ask them to draw their feeling when they are going through it. Ask them to draw fear, anger or sadness and if this is too complex, ask them to draw what is upsetting them – these could all take the shape of faces, situations, certain people, words, doodles and even scribbles. Afterwards, help them make the drawing friendlier by adding other colors, accessories, changing anything that can be changed so that the original drawing is still visible but has been made friendly.

Your child may be scared of ghosts, so they will draw a scary one. (The same drawing could also represent a feeling)

With your guidance, they could make the ghost less threatening by adding familiar and friendly things to it, while it still remains a ghost.

The idea is to make the feeling accessible to the child, to familiarize them with it and help them integrate it healthily.

The third step is typically used with older children because it requires them to use their memory, representation and imagination, aspects which are not fully developed in young children. Older children can be taught in solution – seeking behaviors and attitudes by completing the steps mentioned above and then continuing the process through the creation of a safe space, as described in the video. Watch the video together with your child and pause it in time for them to create their own version of the safe space as they video goes along.

At this point, the aim is to calm the child and have them focus on either accepting what cannot be changed or changing what is within reach.