Posted by: VoiceinRecovery | June 24, 2010

Feelings: Empower Children to use their Voice

I wrote this post a year ago (I think) but never posted on this blog! Hope you enjoy 🙂

  1. Name the feeling
  2. Validate the feeling
  3. Find alternative behaviors to respond to the feelings

The way children respond to issues, how they jump around the feelings wheel are all making me think about how we do it as adults, and finding we can learn things from children. This then broadened to me thinking about how we currently relate to children’s feelings, and how we can potentially make these interactions better and teach them life coping skills as well! Children feel a wide range of emotions; they may be angry one moment and kicking dirt in the back yard and may be happy and playful all within ten minutes. This absolutely amazes me. I think sometimes as adults we may view this as childish, inconsistent, and mind boggling – we may even find ourselves asking “why?” I think with children, especially the younger ones, around 3, often are unaware of what they are feeling, because they don’t even know what this word “feeling” means. To them they are simply expressing whatever is going on in the moment inside of them. I know some girls this young are also really aware of their feelings, and have the amazing ability to express what they are feeling, to actually put into words that they are frustrated by something, something is bothering them, or they are totally happy and fine. I think with boys we often see the feelings represented less in “words” and more in “behaviors.”

How do we as adults respond to these behaviors children present? Do we tell them “no” all the time, to stop the behavior? Do we punish them for acting out? I think we are often so focused on the behavior itself rather than ever thinking about what the behavior is telling us. Children have limited skills, especially at 3, of expression of feelings and know only to act with behaviors. I think we can listen to these behaviors. I think asking children – are you mad? Sad? Frustrated? Will begin to put words to what is going on inside of them. I don’t think at first they will know or understand these labels. But I think kids are really perceptive and receptive and if asked could have an answer to your questions. I think it is then important to validate children’s feelings. Saying – it’s OK to be mad, sad, frustrated, happy, etc. I think then the behavior can be addressed and work with the child to find alternatives to expressing these feelings if what they are currently doing is unsafe or unacceptable (like hitting other people, animals, physical objects, etc). Not only will this tell children how to communicate their feelings, but will make it safe to have the feelings, and safe to communicate their feelings. This also gives children a way to find alternative behaviors (coping skills) to be able to handle whatever they are feeling. It’s empowering to give children their voice, and validate their experiences, while also teaching them what an inappropriate behavior is as well as show them there are alternative ways to cope with situations.

I worry when children are told “no” all the time to unacceptable or inappropriate behavior that this will also tell them what they are feeling is “wrong.” How would you like to be told what you are feeling is wrong? Irrational? Unwarranted? When you tell “no” to a child – do they continue to do the behavior? Do they test you and try other things? Do they simply stop doing anything? I know children like to test our limits, and not every behavior has some deep reason behind it. But I do worry that a pattern of “no” without understanding that behaviors and feelings are entwined, that they may incorporate that feelings are somehow wrong as well. I think creating an open dialogue early in life could create a safe place for children to know they can use their words, find their voice, express their feelings without judgment, and find ways that are safe, healthy, and effective at coping with struggles they will face in life. At least this is my hope.

Imagine knowing that your feelings are OK, and not crazy, and not to be judged by others or yourself. That it is OK to feel, feelings can’t hurt you, and if you allow them to flow without judgment they will change, won’t last, and are simply feelings. Imagine knowing you have choices in how you cope with different situations! Maybe a girl will express the frustration of seeing certain messages in the media, maybe she will let herself feel this frustration, and know it’s OK to question it, knowing who she is – is great!

What were you told about feelings?

How was your behavior responded to? How does this relate to your relationship now with your feelings. Do you ignore your feelings? Do you not even know what you feel? Do you think it is wrong, crazy, and irrational to have your feelings? Are you always uncomfortable in your feelings and feel they are never ending? Have you ever fully let yourself just feel the emotion and ride the wave to the next one? Are you uncomfortable with simply being? Do you only have one effective coping skill to handle all of this? Is this one of the roles the eating disorder has filled in your life?


  1. Great article Kendra, have you read Jean Illsley Clarke’s work? This reminds me of her work in identifying feelings. Such good stuff to help both the parents and the kids. Thanks for sharing.

    • I haven’t heard of her! I will definitely check her work out. Thank you for the feedback & recommendation!

  2. Awesome post. I am not always the best when I can employ the technique mentioned here, but when I do my daughter and I get along better. She feels as if I have acknowledge how she is feeling, she is allowed to express it, and if there needs to be a consequence for her behavior she accepts it much better.

    An example is a few months ago she ruined her lap top by accidentally spilling a drink on it. On the surface, I might have thought she had behaved irresponsibly. Especially since she did not tell me about it and I had to discover it when I noticed she was not using it.

    When I stayed calm and talked to her about it, the whole story came out. It happened to be that the day she spilled the drink on it, was the day our neighbor accidentally ran over our 13 year old German Shepherd in our own yard. Anna had been in the yard when it happened, so it was very upsetting for her. Then the decision had to be made to put the dog to sleep. Because of her age and the injuries she was just suffering too much. Anna was understandably upset and not really focusing on what she was doing, then her own accident with the drink happened. While she probably should not have had her drink near her computer, once I understood why the incident happened, there was no need to fuss at her, it was more important to validate how she was feeling. There was not even a need to consequence her for her behavior because 1. I could not punish her for being so upset about something that she was not paying attention (I do the same thing) and 2. the loss of her computer and having to share mine was consequence enough.

    She knew she had been irresponsible, but the fact that I validated how she felt, turned a potentially not nice situation into a bonding moment.

  3. This is a great post! I have a 3yr old and your right on with the need to validate feelings. He’s at a stage where he gets frustrated easily and is trying to assert some authority and independence. It can lead to some challenging situations. What I know for sure is that the way I “react” totally dictates the next 30 minutes.

    If I stay calm, cool, and curious as to what’s going on for him it’s WAY better than if I try to “dismiss” how he’s feeling (which I never really want to do but in the middle of a walk when we need to get home spending an extra 30 minutes talking can be exhausting).

    Anyways, great post! Now I think adults should work on this in our own relationships and with our own self.


  4. “You’re not alone. Every family has its issues, whether it’s mental illness, addiction, or anything of the sort. We should empower children to use their voice to express their feelings. I think it’s important to be supportive and encourage your loved one to get help. I’ve found that Silver Hill Hospital adolescent psychiatric treatment has a number of treatment programs that encourage family involvement in the recovery process.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: