Figuring out Feelings :: From Sad to Glad


Figuring out feelings is a daily mission in my home. My toddler is at the age when feelings are becoming big and difficult to cope with. One day, my son got frustrated and made a really loud sound like an engine revving. I wondered how he picked that annoying habit up until I heard my husband make the exact same sound when he got frustrated. And then woops … I heard myself do it too!

I knew then, we had to start modeling a better way of expressing our feelings and coping with them.

Figuring out feelings is challenging for toddlers, teenagers and just about every adult I know! But it is an important tool in becoming an emotionally intelligent person. Psychology Today tells me that emotional intelligence is about, “… our ability to understand, use, regulate, and manage our emotions as key determinants of our life success and happiness.”(Bernstein, 2013). Read more about this concept here and here.

Figuring out Feelings :: From Sad to Glad5 Ways to Start Figuring out Feeling


Children learn by watching what you do.

  1. Name the emotion
  2. Share why you feel that emotion
  3. Model coping skills

Example: “I’m feeling really angry right now. I feel angry when my children don’t listen to me. I’m going to go take a break in my room for five minutes. Then we can talk.”

Identify Emotions

Be specific when identifying your own emotions, your children’s or other people’s you observe.

Example: “I’m feeling frustrated right now.”

“You seem so happy! I can tell by your big smile.”

“Wow, that girl seems really excited! She is jumping and laughing. I wonder what made her feel that way?”

Encourage and Empathize

Create a safe space for your children to feel. Your child wants to know you can see a situation from their perspective, even if you don’t agree with it.

Example: “I can tell you feel silly right now. It’s okay to feel silly. I feel silly sometimes too. But when we are in the library, we need to be quiet. We can get our sillies out at the park.”

Make Feelings Fun

Games, songs, movies!

Feelings Playing Cards Each card has a character expressing the emotion on the card. I love playing Go Fish with these cards and sharing a time I have felt the emotion on the cards I match. Get them here.

Inside Out Super cute Pixar movie that is basically an hour and a half of free therapy (minus the rental fee).

Songs I have to plug PBS’ Daniel Tiger. Inspired by Mister Rogers Neighborhood, Daniel Tiger is always learning about his feelings and better yet, he always has a song to go along. My son and I sing “Try, try, try, try, try it again” about fifty million times a day.

Figure out Feelings Every Day

If the day gets away from you, have a feelings check-in at dinner. Think about displaying a visual that helps identify feelings. I like this poster.

Read more here for ways to nurture emotional intelligence. This way of talking with and to your children about feelings doesn’t come naturally to most people. Figuring out feelings is a life-long practice but one that will help your family understand and manage emotions in a healthy way.


  1. Good stuff! My 4-yr-old sings “Try try try try try it again” when I’m parking our big Suburban and don’t get in the lines. Thanks a lot, Daniel Tiger. Haha!

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