Five ways to help your kids get those inside feelings out

It’s spring in Aotearoa! Light, bright, longer days, more rays, a chance to air out – and a chance to air those feelings out too. Of all the lessons I learned in the research for our Feel A Little book (poems about feelings for children), the greatest, without a doubt, was the importance of learning to communicate emotion – getting all those inside feelings out before they build up. It’s the key to it all.

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There are so many opportunities with our children to make this openness a habit. Everyone is different, at each different stage, and we all need to be reached in different ways too. If one way doesn’t resonate, there are countless more to try. Every try shows your child you’re showing up for them. It’s all building that bond and telling them, “I’m here for you, however you need me.”

So to put a spring in our steps and get us all thinking outside the square a little, here are five ways you and your whānau can use this season as a refresher course in expressing those feelings.

1. For the littles who need to get moving to be moved – feelings hopscotch

Old school, right? This one is cheap as chalk, easy, and fun, even from preschool age (with a little patience). Draw a hopscotch grid and, instead of numbers, just write (or draw) a feeling in each square. Any feelings your family is dealing with right now work – happy, sad, frustrated, angry, nervous, excited, worried, jealous, grateful and so on.

Have a whole range of emotions written in. Then it’s as simple as finding a stone to throw, taking turns to see which feeling you land on, then describing a time when you experienced it. Or perhaps imagining a situation or sharing the feelings of a friend. It’s all about physical activity that keeps you talking while you bond. It’s a nostalgic blast to boot!

2. For the little collectors and wanderers – feelings rocks

This is a great one for the the kids who gravitate towards tactile objects and treasures. Take a walk together. Collect stones. Gather a collection of no-stone-unturned feelings rocks. Which shape would be sad? Angry? Worried? What would it feel like to touch?

I can imagine a sadness stone as slippery-smooth and small. I can imagine a sharp, rough angry rock. It’s amazing when you and a child explore these sensations together and really think about how emotions feel to you.

Then you can take them home to write the emotion words on them or decorate with faces or colours. Keep them as tactile objects to hold when someone needs reassurance, or to give to someone when you need to talk about a feeling but don’t know where to start.

3. For the messy little makers, artists and creators – collect art materials from nature

Find twigs, leaves, pebbles and flowers. Make feelings faces in mud, sand or drawn with a stick in the dirt. It’s a mindful, magical project.

Use all your materials and use the opportunity to talk about examples of those emotions. Practice calming flower breaths with your pickings by tracing a flower in your hand and breathe in for two petals, out for two petals. Not only is that breathing a peaceful prompt, it’s a pretty lovely memory association to that happy place time together too.

4. For the little outdoorsy free spirits – beach walks

Go for a beach walk and use the waves as a place to start chatting. Dance in and out of them. Let your kids try to hold them back and find they can’t. Try building a big, sand wall together – they’ll just rush right over and make a muddy mess.

And here’s the cool thing to talk about – the waves are like our feelings. If you accept them as they are, you can channel them into something you learn from, something useful and maybe even something strong. Ask your child if they’ve felt emotions as big as the ocean, that felt like they might overrun them. Let them know that it’s completely natural. You can’t stop emotions like that but you can channel those feelings and let them out by talking, taking time out together, breathing in that freeing sea air.

5. For the little sports stars – feelings ball

Draw faces together with different emotions expressions on a beach ball or soccer ball. Then get out there and play catch. The feeling facing you when you catch the ball is yours to explain. Once again, give an example from your experience or even imagine one. For real littlies, try copying the facial expressions on the ball, practice recognising them and talking about them and see where the talks go from there.

There’s so much opening up to be had when those little brains are busy as well as those hands. And so much shared silliness too! And it’s all so good – for both of you.

Attend a Toolbox parenting course

Toolbox courses inspire and equip whānau. They are bursting with great advice, humour and encouragement, offering practical strategies and insights into developmental stages. Parents leave reassured that challenges are common to all families and that they’re not alone on their parenting journey. The courses are run over a number of weeks in a relaxed and conversational small group setting with a trained facilitator. The five courses – Building Awesome Whānau, Baby and Toddler Years, Primary Years, Intermediate Years, and Teenage Years. Find out more and register here.