Empowering Your Children to Express Themselves

Empowering Your Children to Express Themselves


As I write this I am laying next to my sleeping 14 month old son.  Right now, he is adorable, angelic, and oh-so-quiet.  Let me explain that he is 14 months going on 5.  He is spirited, stubborn (he couldn’t have gotten that from me), and intelligent.

Lately, I have noticed that there are moments when he appears to become frustrated.  Unable to express his emotions, he gets overwhelmed by the very real, intense feelings he is experiencing as he explores the world.  Sometimes, he cannot share or process what he is feeling.  This, accompanied by the still-developing self-control capacity of a child, has resulted in some less than adorable behavior, like hitting, scratching, and hair pulling.

So, what is causing my sweet boy to behave in such a way?  Well, people (adults included), often lash out when they are experiencing challenging emotions.  I have been working on helping my little boy, even though he is only 14 months old, to develop the skills and self-awareness to empower him to express his emotions in a healthy, appropriate manner.  I emphasize that we are working on developing these skills.  There is not an overnight solution.  Here are some things I am doing, or plan to do as he gets older, to help him cope with his feelings

  1. Identify Feelings – Give your child words to use so they can label and express what they are feeling.  Help them to explore where and how they experience emotions physically.  Some children may even benefit from personifying their emotions.  Perhaps anger is a tiger that feels hot and starts as a knot in their belly.  There are lots of different activities and crafts you can use to help you children learn how to identify their feelings – here is an activity to help children explore where they feel emotions – “Where do I feel?”

  2. React with Kindness and Understanding – When a child is already feeling overwhelmed and agitated, it typically is counter-intuitive to react by scolding them, raising your voice, or implementing a physical intervention (i.e., flicking them in the hand).  In addition to compounding your child’s confusion and negative emotion, you are likely modeling the very behaviors you are eager for them to avoid.  Make sure you are providing you child with the opportunity to express their feelings.  Validate them and model how to appropriately identify emotions with a statement such as “I know you are feeling frustrated.  Sometimes we feel sad when we don’t get to do what we want.  But it’s not nice for you to hit me.”

  3. Provide Tools/Coping Skills – It is never to early to begin teaching our children healthy ways to deal with their emotions.  They are tiny, adorable sponges!  Even if you are simply modeling the behavior in appropriate situations, you are teaching them healthy coping skills.  Remember, it’s best to teach a child a skill when they are calm and in a good mood.  Here is a technique you can offer a toddler:  Bubble breathing (fun to use actual bubbles with this skill!) – We are going to pretend that we are blowing bubbles!   You are going to take a deep breath, as deep as you can, and then slowly blow out your breath, filling your bubble as slowly as possible.  Have your child repeat this as many times as necessary.  If appropriate, tell them to “place their trouble in the bubble” and have them “pop” it, explaining that once they pop the bubble their trouble is gone.

Remember, each child, parent, and family system is beautiful and unique in it’s own special way.  Work on being mindful of your child’s behaviors, what may trigger their behaviors, and what types of skills they seem to really enjoy.  Simply being present (i.e., not on your phone, watching TV), modeling appropriate behaviors, and being compassionate and empathetic to your child’s feelings can have  powerful and profound impact on your children.  


About the Author:  Danielle is a provisionally licensed mental health practitioner in Omaha, Nebraska. She is a sole proprietor at New Leaf Therapy Associates, LLC, and enjoys working with individuals and families.  Danielle utilizes trauma-informed techniques and mindfulness with her clients, helping them to feel empowered and more in control of their lives.

Phone: (402)980-6342

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