Teaching your child about his emotions will help him become mentally strong. Children who understand their emotions and have the coping skills to deal with them will be confident that they can handle whatever life throws their way.

Teaching your child about his emotions will help him become mentally strong. Children who understand their emotions and have the coping skills to deal with them will be confident that they can handle whatever life throws their way.

Children's feelings

Feelings are complicated, especially for a 4-year-old who doesn't understand why you won't let him eat another cookie an 8-year-old is upset that you got called into work and you have to leave the playground early.

It's hard to teach children about feelings because it's a fairly abstract concept. It's hard to describe how it feels to be sad, scared, or excited.

It's important to begin teaching children about their emotions as early as possible since their feelings affect every choice they make. Children who understand their emotions are less likely to act out by using temper tantrumsaggression, and defiance to express themselves.

A child who can say, “I’m mad at you” is less likely to hit. And a child who can say, "That hurts my feelings," is better equipped to resolve conflict peacefully.

Teach your child simple feeling words

Teach your preschooler basic feeling words such as happy, mad, sad and scared. Older children can benefit from learning more complex feeling words such as frustrated, disappointed, and nervous.

A great way to help children learn about feelings is to discuss how various characters in books or TV shows may feel. Pause to ask, “How do you think he feels right now?” Then, discuss the various feelings the character may be experiencing and the reasons why.

Talking about other people's feelings also teaches empathy. Young children think the world revolves around them so it can be an eye-opening experience for them to learn that other people have feelings too. If your child knows that pushing his friend to the ground may make his friend mad and sad, he will be less likely to do it.

Create Opportunities to Talk About Feelings

Show children how to use feeling words in their daily vocabulary. Model how to express feelings by taking opportunities to share your feelings. Say, “I feel sad that you don’t want to share your toys with your sister today. I bet she feels sad too.”

Each day, ask your child, “How are you feeling today?” With young children, use a simple chart with smiley faces if that helps them to pick a feeling and then discuss that feeling together. Talk about the types of things influence your child’s feelings.

Point out when you notice your child is likely feeling a particular feeling. For example, say, “You look really happy that we are going to be eating ice cream,” or “It looks like you are getting frustrated playing with those blocks.”

Teach Your Child How to Deal With Feelings

Children need to learn that just because they feel angry doesn’t mean they can hit someone. Instead, they need to learn anger management skills so they can resolve conflict peacefully. Proactively teach your child how to deal with uncomfortable emotions.

Encourage your child to take a self-timeout. Encourage them to go to their room or another quiet place when they get upset. This can help them calm down before they break a rule and get sent ttimeout.

Teach your child healthy ways to deal with sad feelings as well. If your child feels sad that his friend won’t play with him, talk about ways he can deal with his sad feelings. Often, children don’t know what to do when they feel sad, so they become aggressive or exhibit attention-seeking behaviours.

Reinforce Positive Ways to Express Feelings

Reinforce good behaviour with a positive consequence. Praise your child for expressing his emotions in a socially appropriate way by saying things such as, "I really like the way you used your words when you told your sister you were mad at her.”

Another great way to reinforce healthy habits is to use a reward system. For example, a token economy system could help a child practice using his healthy coping strategies when he feels angry instead of becoming aggressive.

Model Healthy Choices

If you tell your child to use his words when he’s angry but he witnesses you throw your phone after a dropped call, your words won't be effective. Model healthy ways to deal with uncomfortable emotions.

Point out times when you feel angry or frustrated and say it out loud. Say, “Wow, I’m angry that car just pulled in front of me.” Then take some deep breaths or model another healthy coping skill so your child can learn to recognise the skills you use when you feel angry.

Look for Teachable Moments

You're going to need to work with your child on emotions throughout his entire childhood, including the teen years. It's important to continue to have ongoing conversations about how to handle emotions in a healthy way.

When your child makes a mistake, by breaking something out of anger or by giving up when he's frustrating, consider it an opportunity to teach him how to do better next time. Look for teachable moments (and keep in mind there will be plenty of them) to help him find healthy ways to cope with his feelings.

Use A Token Economy System

A token economy system is one of the fastest and most effective ways to get children to follow the rules. Similar to a traditional reward system, children earn tokens throughout the day. Then, tokens can be exchanged for bigger rewards.

Although sticker charts work well with preschool-age children, a token economy system will work best with older children. Whether you want to get your child to do their chores, follow directions at school, or refrain from hitting when he's angry, reward systems are effective discipline tools.

How to Create a Token Economy System

Sometimes parents create very complicated systems that are hard for children to understand and difficult for parents to manage. It's important to keep a token economy system simple so that both you and your child will stay motivated.

Here's how to create your token economy system:

  1. Choose up to three behaviours to address at one time. Pick a behaviour that your child is already doing well, one behavior that needs a little improvement, and one challenging behaviour.
  2. Frame the desired behaviours in a positive way. Instead of saying, “Don’t hit your sister,” create a goal like, “Keep your hands to yourself.” State what behaviour you want to see so you can reward good behaviour with a token.
  3. Break the day down into smaller chunks of time when necessary. You might reward your child for meeting his goals in the morning, during the afternoon, and during the evening. Waiting all day to earn a token can seem like too big of a goal and many children will lose interest.
  4. Physically hand a token to your child whenever he earns one. Provide immediate reinforcement for good behaviour by giving your child a token for meeting his goals. 
  5. Create an appealing reward menu with a variety of items. Offer rewards worth a variety of point values to keep it exciting. Being able to stay up late might be worth one token, but choosing something from the dollar store might be worth 10 tokens, for example.

Tips to Make Your Token Economy System Effective

A good token economy system should get your child excited and help him stay motivated to do better. And while it will take a little extra effort on your part initially, an effective reward system should save you a lot of time disciplining your child in the end. Here are some tips for making your token economy system as effective as possible:

  • Use coins, plastic poker chips, or marbles for tokens. Make sure your child can't access the tokens. You don't want him adding his own marbles to the ones he's earned from you.
  • Help your child find a way to store his tokens. If your child creates a special jar or box to keep his tokens in, he'll be extra motivated to earn more. Children love to count, shake and look at their tokens.
  • Keep the token economy system positive. Make sure your child knows a token economy system is about rewarding his good behaviour. It shouldn't be about punishing him when he makes a mistake.
  • Use some rewards that don’t cost money. They can include things such as picking what to eat for dinner, going to the park, or getting an extra bedtime story. Get your child involved by requesting his input into what rewards he would like to earn.


Token economy systems often take a bit of trial and error. Perhaps you made the rewards too easy to earn. Or maybe, your child just isn't motivated by the rewards you're offering.

If it isn't working to change your child's behaviour, don't give up or get rid of the reward plan altogether. Often, just a few small changes can make a big difference in helping your child change his behaviour.

Sometimes, behaviours get a little worse before they get better. Your child may have some difficulty adjusting to any new discipline strategies that you start implementing. So, make sure you give your plan plenty of time before you make any major changes to it.

Children's Services Contact: Veronica Gadia
 07 346 2096   veronica.gadia@familyfocus.org.nz