PEP Blog


Emotion Coaching: Putting Words to Feelings

By Trish Pannuto & Colleen Reed

Parenting provides endless opportunities to navigate feelings — those of our children and our own. In last week’s blog post we described one dad’s instinct to put a stop to his son’s anxious feelings, fearing that engaging them would only fan the flames and result in more anxious feelings.

Whether we’re dealing with a child, co-worker or partner, we often approach big feelings in one of two ways, either:

  1. Shutting them down
  2. Giving into and accommodating them

Though well-intentioned, neither of these natural inclinations are helpful, and both will likely amplify big feelings. So, what’s one to do?

  • Adjust expectations; accept feelings are part of our humanity.
  • Slow down, take a deep breath, and refuse to allow big emotions to overwhelm us; doing so gives us the capacity to turn toward others with a sense of calm.
  • Listen with an empathetic ear, acknowledging that all feelings are okay.
  • Validate feelings by naming them thereby growing everyone’s emotional vocabulary. As Noted Parenting Author Dr. Tina Payne Bryson would say, “name it to tame it.”

One way parents can do this is to guess at what the child might be feeling. For a preschooler feeling anxious about morning drop off, the parent might say, “I wonder if you feel sad when I leave you at preschool?”

For an older child who returns from school chattering excitedly about a test a parent might ask: “You look ecstatic, is it possible that you did better on that test than you expected?”

And, for a dispirited teen, dropped from a group chat and excluded from a party: “I wonder if you’re feeling hurt, embarrassed, devastated” — it’s up to you to insert the appropriate word to reflect what the teen is projecting.

Understanding feelings and emotions is an essential part of child development. By giving names to feelings, we’re helping kids better understand them. Because it’s easy to fall into the habit of using common words like mad, sad, or glad, we’ve created this handy download, Putting Words to Feelings, that will help you expand their vocabulary!

Parenting isn’t easy and all of us could use some help sometimes. With two online classes on Encouragement and Discipline, getting parenting help and support has never been easier. Don’t wait to register, these four-week online classes start, May 4th! Click here to preview our newest Master Class, Redefining Discipline: A No Gimmicks Guide to Raising Responsible & Respectful Kids.


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