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Children can express themselves in many different ways. This may be through facial expressions, the movement of their bodies, their behaviour or their play.

As soon as they are born, children start learning how to express themselves through their social interactions with the people around them. Here, we look at some ways in which we can help our children to learn how to understand, communicate and manage their feelings in a positive way.

Helping them to name their feelings

Giving feelings a name helps your child to learn to identify them and gives them the ability to be able to talk about them. For example, you may say “I can see that you are feeling angry right now”.

Help them to identify what they are feeling

Processing emotions

Feelings can sometimes be overwhelming and confusing. Learn to recognise your child’s cues from their body language as well as from what they are verbalising. Being able to help them understand what they are feeling and why they are feeling this way will help them to be able to name and then find a positive way to express those feelings.

What is behind it?

All behaviour is driven by a feeling. Try to help your child to understand that. For example, they may feel mad, but is that because they are actually sad about something? Are they sad mad? Once they can start identifying what is behind their behaviour you can work together to find a more positive way to express that feeling.

Encourage empathy

Help your child to understand the reasons behind other children’s behaviour and to identify how they are feeling by looking at their facial expressions. Encouraging your child to recognise the emotions of others is a huge part of helping them to develop empathy for others.

Set a good example

Children learn about emotions and how to express them from the people around them. Don’t be afraid to let your children see you express different emotions so that they can see how you deal with them. Equally encourage them to express their feelings too and praise them when they do so that you reinforce the knowledge that talking about feelings is a normal and healthy thing to do.

Listen

Instead of trying to soothe away any bad feelings that your child may be having, support your child by listening to them. Help them to identify and name their feelings and encourage them to express them. If children feel that their feelings are being minimised or dismissed, they may start expressing them in unhealthy ways.

Not all children learn to express themselves in the same way. Neurodivergent children often choose to express themselves in different ways so the ways that we can help them to learn to express their feelings can be different too.

Here are a few tips from The National Autistic Society on how to communicate more successfully with an autistic person so that you can give them the time, space and understanding that they need to be able to express themselves.

Gain their attention

Use the child’s name when you start speaking so that they know that you are talking to them and wait to make sure that you actually have their attention before you start talking to them.

Don’t overload them

Autistic people can find it hard to identify the important pieces of information if they are bombarded with lots of things at the same time, so minimise the number of words and questions you use and say them slowly so that your child has a chance to process them.

Give options

Rather than asking open ended questions, ask yes or no questions instead, or give two options.

Distressed behaviour

If your child is struggling to express themselves this may present itself through distressed behaviour. Give them alternative ways to say no or stop. Maybe consider giving them a visual help card that they can carry. A behaviour diary can help you to identify whether the behaviour is an attempt to communicate something.

Navigating your child’s emotions and helping them to learn how to express themselves can be a challenging task whether they are neurodivergent or neurotypical but remember no-one knows your child as well as you do so follow your instincts and you will be exactly who they need you to be.

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