Behaviour Matters

Five Ways to Teach Your Kids To: Use Your Words

Five Ways to Teach Your Kids To: Use Your Words

Isn't it funny how our knee jerk reaction is to tell children to "use their words" when they are having a tantrum when that is the VERY thing that they are having difficulty with? As parents, caregivers, and helping professionals we are SO tuned into the idea of wanting to 'fix' the situation immediately for the child that we forget a fundamental detail: many young children don't have the words to describe how they are feeling, so they tend to 'show us' their anger. As adults, our role is to act as 'translators' and teach children to convert their confusing feelings into tangible emotions with names. Here are five great ways where this can be achieved:

1) When you read stories, to children, stop and discuss with them how the character might be feeling.

ยท  Every so often when you are reading a story, stop and ask your child how they think that character might be feeling.  Give your child the opportunity to be a 'detective' and see if they can find any clues such as facial expressions and behavior that would act as evidence to suggest that this was true. 

2)  Label the feelings that your child is experiencing in real time as the child is experiencing them.

  • For example: If you come home and your child runs up to you and gives you a hug, acknowledge that they seem happy to see you. If you are ask your child to do something and their facial expression indicates anger, acknowledge that they seem angry.  While there are children who might find these statements obvious, labeling the feelings that a child is having allows them to build up their emotional vocabulary and be able to use these words when they are experiencing these emotions in the future. 

3)  Actively cue children to think about what others might be experiencing in the moment.

  • Suppose you are walking and you see someone fall down on the sidewalk. This can be an excellent teachable moment in terms of how they can go further than labeling their own feelings, and be able to recognize social cues in their environment that would tell them about the emotions of others. 

4) Tell your children when their behavior upsets someone else.

  • This does NOT have to be punitive, but can instead be a learning opportunity. Kids are creatures of instinct, and need the time to reflect on their behavior in order to form new habits. For example, if you witness them take a toy from a friend at a play date in your home, stop them and explain to them how this behavior made their friend feel. A great follow up is to ask them how that would make them feel if that behavior was done to them. When we give children an opportunity to put themselves in the shoes of another person, we are giving them an opportunity not only to learn to label and identify feelings, but also the ability to develop empathy for others. 

5) Teach your child that it is okay to express their feelings.


This does not mean that we need to accept negative behavior, but instead that we teach children that it is okay to reach out for support. Praise them when they express their feelings in words, and model appropriate ways to express feelings such as taking a moment to calm down, and explaining to your child ( when appropriate) when you are feeling angry, sad, or happy.