Helping Children with Feelings

1) To help children with their feelings:


Acknowledge their feelings with a word – “Oh” … “Mmmm…. I see.”

Give their feelings a name e.g. You’re so mad!

Use fantasy e.g. You wish you could find the right toy….

Try to stick to reflecting a child’s feelings – and try not to give advice or to solve the child’s problem. They want to be understood in the way that they feel.

Imagine you are a mirror and you are copying or “mirroring” your child (much like an observer). Try and describe what you SEE and try and imagine what feeling is under what you are seeing.

For example: Your child is playing in the sandpit at home. You tell him/her not to throw sand at the other children, and he/she decides to throw sand at you.

Your response: “I know you are angry…. But I am not for throwing sand at…. You can throw it in the sandpit or in the bucket.” (Your tone of voice is very important here, you need to be firm – not in a way that will frighten a child – but in a way that they will take notice of what you are saying).

Do not shout at the child as this will be seen as “attacking” and they will probably not take on board what you are saying. Also try not to threaten the child e.g. “If you don’t stop throwing sand at the children – we will be going home and we wont come back again!” (This again will only frighten children and make them more anxious).

Giving an alternative is a great way for them to do something but in a safe way (e.g. throwing the sand in the sandpit or in the bucket is better than a child throwing sand at other children).


A – Acknowledge the feeling (e.g. angry, frustrated, excited etc.)
L – Set the limit (e.g. I am not for hitting, I am not for throwing sand at or the floor is not for throwing paint at etc.)
T – Target an alternative (e.g. You can throw the sand in the sandpit or in the bucket) – a “safer” option.

If the child does not stop the behaviour (e.g. Throwing sand at you) – You can say “I know you are mad at me… but if you don’t stop throwing sand at me – when we go home I will put you on the thinking chair) – use “thinking chair” instead of naughty step and try not to call their behaviour “naughty.” Remember to always acknowledge how they are feeling first before telling them what will happen.

Lastly, when you get home (if they didn’t stop throwing sand at you) – FOLLOW THROUGH with what you have told them and put the child on the “Thinking Chair” (1 minute per year of age e.g. 2 years old = 2 minutes on the chair). This creates predictability and security for a child – because they know what to expect next.

Thinking Chair – should be in a small room (maybe dining room or lounge) where there are no toys, TV’s, games, books etc – try and face the chair towards a blank wall or corner so that they have no distractions and have to try and think about what they did.

When time is up, come and explain why they are on the chair and accept an apology.

“Child’s name…. I put you on the thinking chair because you carried on throwing sand at me when I told you I wasn’t for throwing sand at….. Is there anything you want to say to me?

When they say “Sorry” – hug and kiss them and FORGIVE THEM. Moving on is very important and don’t hold grudges as this will be felt by the child.

Try not to say, “You were on the chair because you were so mad at me!” You don’t want your child to hide his/her feelings – you want to ACCEPT their feelings, but not the BEHAVIOUR.

2) To engage cooperation:

1) Describe what you see or describe the problem

2) Give information

3) Say it with a word

4) Talk about your feelings

1) Describe the problem: e.g. Child is filling up the bath with water and it is about to overflow.

Your response: Child’s name, the water in the bath is getting close to the top – Instead of: You’re so irresponsible! You always do this! Do you want us to have a flood?

2) Give information: e.g. Milk is used and then left on the table.

Your response: Milk goes sour if it stays out of the fridge –
Instead of: Who left the milk out of the fridge?

3) Say it with a word: e.g. Children are not going to have a bath and are clowning around.

Your response: Girls, Bath! (one word)

4) Talk about your feelings e.g. Child keeps pulling on your sleeve or following you around the house.

Your response: I know you want some time with me… but I don’t like having my sleeve pulled… or I don’t like being followed around the house… We can have some time together a bit later…

3) Alternatives to Punishment:

1) Point out a way to be helpful
2) Express strong disapproval (without attacking character)
3) State your expectations
4) Give a choice
5) Take action

E.G. You are in the grocery shop with your son and he is clowning around and running up and down the aisles.

Point out a way to be helpful:
It would really help if you picked out 3 big lemons for us.

Express strong disapproval:
I don’t like you running around the shops

State your expectations and give a choice:
You can choose to either sit in the trolley or you can choose to walk – which do you choose?

Take action:
Either remove the child from the shop or reflect on their choice.

E.g. I see you chose to sit in the trolley. (If you remove them – BEFORE doing so -give them a warning about taking them home to the thinking chair)

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