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Self Awareness

How can I help my child . . .?

  • How can I help my child learn to recognize their emotions?
  • How can I help my child manage their emotions?

What Does it Mean to Recognize Emotions? 

Emotions are part of what makes us human.  Our emotions give us information about how we and others are doing and can affect our thoughts and behavior.  However, being able to recognize, label and regulate (manage) our reactions to our emotions is not something all of us are skilled at. In fact, many of us learn to ignore our emotions and keep them inside. 

To begin exploring the world of emotions, let’s start with the common emotions that most humans are wired with. These include:

  • anger
  • sadness
  • fear
  • joy
  • interest
  • shame
  • surprise
  • disgust

According to research, all other feelings are a combination of those eight.  At the most basic level, children can identify anger, sadness, fear and joy while adolescents may be able to label the other four as well.  With some practice and modeling, they become capable of  describing  their emotions using more specific vocabulary.

Why it Matters

Middle schoolers  are beginning to learn more about who they are and what they want. Being able to identify and manage their own emotions are skills that have wide-ranging effects socially, mentally and academically.  When children learn how to name what they are feeling and express emotions in an appropriate way, they are:

  • more likely to do well in school.
  • more capable of building positive relationships.
  • more confident and independent.
  • better at managing stress.
  • less likely to become anxious and depressed.

Adults can help children and adolescents make the connection between the way they are feeling and the particular behaviors that may stem from those emotions.  For example, when they feel irritated or tired (from school, work, social relationships), they tend to speak to their sibling  in a sharp, mean tone. Over time, they may  begin to see patterns and are either able to stop the behavior from happening  or find ways to feel better when they notice the irritation developing.

Check In:

Take this brief survey to learn more about your child’s skills in identifying and managing emotions. After you complete the survey, you will read more about specific strategies you can help them develop. 

Skills For Identifying Emotions

Adapted from:
Grades 5 and 6My child can . . . Agree Agree somewhat  Disagree
  1. identify their emotions and how they are linked with their thoughts and behaviors.
  1. describe how emotions can change depending on the situation.
  1. better understand their emotions by talking with a trusted adult.
Grades 7 and 8   My  adolescent can….
  1. identify and utilize appropriate time and place to safely process emotions with adult support as needed.
  1. recognize a basic range of emotions that impact themselves and others.
  1. explain how others’ responses to situations can impact their emotions and the behaviors they engage in.

Skills For Managing Emotions

  Grades 5 and 6    My child can . . . 
  1. identify and express a range of emotions in an age-appropriate manner.
  1. connect the relationship between thoughts, emotions and actions.
  1. identify the positive and negative consequences of their actions.
  1. apply strategies to regulate emotions and manage behaviors.
  1. make healthy choices to reduce stress.
Grades 7 and 6   My adolescent can….
  1. maintain confidence during stress,emotional responses, or changing emotions.
  1. recognize the impact of their behavioral responses to thoughts, emotions, and actions.
  1. reflect on possible positive and negative consequences before expressing an emotion or behavior.
  1. identify things that may cause them to feel overwhelmed or stressed.

Connect & Communicate:

How Can I Help My Child Develop These Skills?

Start the conversation:

  • Help them learn to label their own emotions by saying something like “It seems like you are…”  
  • Help them broaden their emotional vocabulary.  When they are describing it to you, you can name it for them.  For example, if they are crying because they can’t see their friend that day you can say “It sounds like you are disappointed.”   Over time this will become part of their vocabulary too.
  • Help them notice their emotions by observing other physical responses.  For example, when we are scared our heart may race fast. Try a new check-in question: Instead of “How was your day?” or “How’s it going?” which focus on external factors, help your child focus on their inner climate by asking, “How are you feeling today?”
  • Model your own emotion management skills: or example, “I’m feeling stressed. I need some space.” or “I’m going to go outside and take a few deep breaths.”  or “I was really annoyed when I saw the mess in the bathroom. Now that I’m feeling calmer, I’ll ask you to pick up your clothes from the floor.”

How can I Help My Child Learn to Manage Their Emotions?

It is important that children be able to express both positive and challenging feelings with family,  friends, and other important people in their lives. Learning regulation strategies to help them calm down before they speak or act can result in more effective and meaningful interaction and improved relationships. 

Examples of emotion regulation strategies include: taking deep breaths, giving themselves some space, not sweeping emotions under the rug, finding ways to calmly express strong emotions, finding social support, and engaging in positive self-talk.  It is important to note that there is not just one way to regulate one’s emotions and that factors such as background, culture and age can influence how one gets back to center.   The idea is that everyone finds the particular ways of regulating emotions that work for them.

In addition to the strategies above, you can support your child  by:

  • Validating their feelings and try to see situations from their point of view
  • Modeling both labeling and regulating emotions; show your kids that you also experience a variety of emotions 
  • Providing an environment where they feel comfortable sharing both positive and difficult emotions. 
  • Consulting with a school counselor or other service provider to identify someone outside of the family to help your child.  


Calming Corner:  You and your child can create a space in the house where they can go to calm down.  It may include things to draw with, a stress ball, a cozy blanket, some favorite books, or a list of strategies to help them calm down.  

Disconnect from Tech. Find some time each day for members of the family to disconnect from technology and give your child undivided attention. Allow them to share whatever they choose to share and provide a safe space for them to bring up anything-big or small.

Mood Meter  Help your child identify their feelings  by using the Mood Meter.  This can be done once in the morning and/or in the evening.  For some of the unpleasant feelings, brainstorm ways of feeling  better. 

Inside Out:  Watch the movie Inside Out from Disney to discuss  emotions.  You can discuss times when your child has felt those feelings and what some strategies are from dealing with the stronger ones.

Yoga + Meditation:  There are plenty of free videos and practices online.  They can be as short as 5 minutes and as long as you have time for. Practice with your child. 

Share the Joy:  Pick a regular time of day such as the evening drive home, dinner, or bedtime.  Invite each family member to share three things that went well that day or that they are happy about.  Take a moment to share in the joy each person has.  Make it a habit and see if it doesn’t change the mood for everyone.

Personal Identity Wheel:  Create this with your middle schooler or have them do it on their own and share it with you.  Each family member can also do one and share it as a group.

Read + Discuss Books about Emotions:  Here is a short list of 12 books that you can read with your child.  Find one they may like and discuss it with them afterwards.

Contact & Collaborate:

Contact your school counselor or psychologist for resources on this topic.  Here are other ways to get involved and learn more:

  • Social media:  Find a Facebook page that focuses on social/emotional learning in older children and tween and participant in online discussions
  • Parent book club:  Find a book on social emotional learning and start a book club to learn more and connect with other parents.  
  • SEL in your community:  Research local organizations that provide courses and training for social and emotional learning for parents.
  • SEL in the school:  FInd out what teachers and administrators are doing to promote social and emotional learning in the classroom and school-wide.

Continue Learning:

Very Well Family:  An article about how to help tweens with negative emotions:

Edutopia:  Emotion Regulation Activities for Tweens and Teens:

Moms of Tweens and Teens (podcast):  Hope for Moms of Boys Who Struggle to Emotionally Regulate

Parent Resource Guide for Social/Emotional Learning:  A list of resources on social and emotional learning  for parents.

Podcasts for Learning more about SEL:

Generation Mindful:  Products that help develop self-awareness and managing emotions at home.

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