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Like that crazy sitcom character, the one that can’t manage a real relationship, your preschool kid can sometimes be an emotional mess.
You give him a lollipop and he runs around the house singing about it. You tell him he has to wear socks and a coat because it’s sleeting outside and he collapses onto the floor, red-faced and screaming. Helping children learn how to talk about their feelings can bring balance to their moods and is at the very top of the list of important parenting duties.
Detect the emotion
Some parents have a knack for observing the signs of emotional flare ups, like they possess some shady magic that lets them see a tantrum or a sulk developing like a dark cloud on the horizon.
Pro tip: It isn’t magic. You can do it.
Think about your child’s emotional responses, the way your son furrows his brow when frustrated or your daughter stutters through her words when nervous. Tuning in to these subtle signs is key to helping your child make sense of his or her emotional state. We all have feelings. Helping children talk about those feelings can make emotions feel a lot less overwhelming, scary, or upsetting.
React and guide
You’ve taken your 4-year-old to the birthday party she’s been excitedly chatting about all week. But once you arrive, the playroom is loud and children are running everywhere. The afternoon might play out several ways, with your child feeling happy and excited, sporting Hulk-colored frosting on her lips; or over-stimulated, exhausted, and begging to leave.
By the time the birthday child is opening presents, you can tell things are headed south. Birthday boy is showing off his cool stuff and your child isn’t feeling it. She comes to you, lower lip out, and says, “I want a new puzzle and those books.”
It might be easier to placate her and buy some new toys, or to tell her to grow up and stop whining. But giving her a chance to talk about how she feels will give her tools she can use for the rest of her life.
You say: “You want all that stuff that your friend just got? But it’s his special day, isn’t it?” She shakes her head as she listens in your arms. “I’ve felt that way before, and I have a word for it.” She asks what it is. “I call it envy. You’re envious of his birthday.”
From there, you can talk to her about how one day soon it will be her birthday, and no one else’s and she’ll be the one celebrated. You can talk about how feeling envious isn’t fun, but it’s a common feeling we all experience. Then give an example from your own life to give her something to think about on the drive home.