Young children have a rich emotional life but they have not yet learned to express their feelings in appropriate ways, and at times they are
overwhelmed by their feelings because they cannot control them. Using the Comfort, Play, & TeachTM approach, parents can help
young children learn to cope with their feelings.
An important way to comfort a child is to take his feelings seriously, recognize and acknowledge that his feelings are real to him, e.g., say
something like: “I can see that you are feeling very disappointed that the present wasn’t for you”. Validating his feelings is the first step towards
helping him cope with his emotions.
Showing that you understand his feelings is also a comfort to your child; it will help him see that his feelings are normal and not something he
needs to be ashamed of or hide from you. For instance, you can share with him the last time you felt frustrated or sad.
Play can be a powerful way for children to learn about feelings. Playing pretend games allows toddlers and preschoolers to experiment with a
range of emotions and situations safely and without real consequences. A typical imaginary play situation for most preschoolers is “a visit to the
doctor”. In this scenario they tell another child, “This may hurt but then you will feel better.” This kind of role playing allows children to take control of
a fearful situation and make it turn out the way they want.
Reading books about specific situations and emotions is another powerful and playful way to help children deal with real emotions, such as fear of
the dark, the loss of a pet, etc. The We Recommend section of our website has many books of this nature.
You can teach your child by showing her how you manage your own emotions. For example, modeling how you calm yourself down in the midst of
a very frustrating or stressful situation is a powerful way to get your message across.
Teaching your child how to talk about feelings can help her learn to cope more effectively with them. When you give her the words to describe
how she is feeling and the reason why, then the situation can be dealt with in a calmer and more constructive manner.