Helping Your Child to Communicate Feelings

“Anything that’s human is mentionable and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.  When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.  The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

– Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers)

How well does your child communicate his or her feelings to others?  Does your child arrive home from school and tell you every detail of his or her day?  Or is it a struggle to find out any information about your child’s school day?  I have a daughter that arrives home from school with detailed information about her day –  what she had for lunch, who she played with at recess, and how she performed on her math test.  On the other hand, I have to ask several questions to obtain information from my son.  

After a loss, a child may see family members upset and will not want to further upset them.  Consequently, the child will not discuss his or her feelings about the loss to their family members.  There are strategies that parents can implement to help children communicate.  The following strategies can be used at home:

1.   Ask open-ended questions.  

Do not ask questions that require one word responses; such as, “Did you have a good day?”   

The following statements are open-ended:  

“Who did you play with at recess today?”

“What do you miss the most about your dad?”

“What do you like/ dislike about your new school?”  

“Tell me about your new teacher…”

2.  Talk to your child during an activity.  

Some children will be more open to discuss their feelings when engaged in an activity.  For example, a good time to ask your child questions could be while shooting hoops, taking a walk, and playing a board game.   During dinner, have every family member share a “HIGH” and “LOW” for the day.  A “HIGH” is something positive and a “LOW” is something negative that occurred during the day.   You can make up your own names.  At my house, we say, “LEMON and LEMONADE.”  My kids love to begin dinner with our “Lemonades.”  President Obama and his family say  “ROSE and THORN.”  I would always  begin a support group with this activity and even the quiet children would always want to share.  

3.  Ask your child to draw how he or she is feeling.  One of my favorite activities is to paint with Kool-Aid.  

Mix packets of Kool-Aid in small amounts of water in paper cups.  Q-tips make great paint brushes.  The child is instructed to use different colors to show how he or she is feeling.  It smells great and is fun at the same time!   Make sure to place paper where the child will be painting because Kool-Aid can stain.  I have used this activity with my Safe Harbor support groups.   Before painting, I explain how colors can represent feelings and show a few paintings completed by different artists. We discuss what they imagine the artist was feeling when the picture was painted.  

4.  Journal writing for an older child.  

Encourage your child to write his or her feelings about the loss in the journal.  Do not read your child’s journal unless your child has asked you to read it.   

* On a final note,  you might consider contacting the school counselor at your child’s school.  The school counselor will have books on different types of losses and can be a source of support for your child.  The school counselor may offer support groups on loss in the school or will be familiar with bereavement centers that offer support groups in the area.

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