Children, like adults, experience a wide range of emotions, including sadness, anger, fear, frustration, and anxiety. But unlike us, they have yet to learn how to express and articulate their feelings healthily. And that can cause problems. Let’s get after part two…

That’s why as early as now, we need to teach children how to handle difficult emotions without suppressing them.

Those “problems?” If you’ve spent time around children, you know about tantrums, outbursts, social isolation, and other self-destructive behaviors.

As parents and caregivers, it is our responsibility to help our children understand and manage their difficult emotions. And that’s what the series is about.

In part one we laid a foundation, discussing understanding children’s emotions and creating a safe place for emotional expression. We’ll wrap up the series here with healthy ways to express difficult emotions, the power of play and storytelling, and lead by example.

Onward…

Healthy ways to express difficult emotions

Suppressed emotions are associated with a poorer social life, depressive symptoms, and suicidal thoughts and attempts.

Moreover, 2003 research linked emotional invalidation in childhood with emotional inhibition in adulthood.

Emotional inhibition refers to holding back or hiding emotions and trying to stop yourself from feeling certain thoughts, feelings, urges, or sensations that are connected to your emotions.

Inhibiting emotions was also linked to symptoms of depression and anxiety.

That’s why as early as now, we need to teach children how to handle difficult emotions without suppressing them. Processing and expressing emotions are necessary for kids to self-regulate – which is the ability to manage their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

By learning to process and manage difficult emotions in healthy ways, kids are better equipped to deal with stress and bounce back from setbacks.

Healthy ways to help kids express their emotions

If we’re going to emphasize expressing emotions in healthy ways, we’d better have some ideas ready. Consider these…

Physical activity

Physical activity provides kids with an outlet for releasing tension associated with difficult emotions. Regular exercise can also help them reduce stress levels and express emotions through movement.

A 2022 study looked at how physical activity affects children’s and teens’ positive emotions. The researchers found that young people who participated in physical activity showed significantly improved moods compared to those who did not engage in physical activity.

Here are examples of physical activities young people can try…

Outdoor play

Kids can play outdoors to release tension while enjoying the fresh air. They can run, jump, or explore their surroundings.

Sports

Sports such as soccer, basketball, volleyball, swimming, or martial arts allow kids to channel their emotions into physical activity and learn skills such as teamwork and discipline.

Dance

Dancing is a good way to express happiness, excitement, or even sadness. Kids can do freestyle dance or enroll in dance fitness classes.

Mindful movement

Yoga teaches kids to focus on their breathing and bodily sensations, which helps with emotional regulation.

Creative expression

healthy ways to express difficult emotions

Expressing emotions and conveying feelings

Creative activities such as drawing, painting, writing, or storytelling can help kids express their emotions and convey feelings that are difficult to articulate in conversation.

These outlets can be cathartic to children, allowing them to release pent-up emotions safely and constructively.

One example of a creative activity is clay art. When working with clay, kids can have a sensory experience as they use their sight and touch to work with the clay. The act of freely kneading, pounding, and shaping clay can help kids release pent-up emotions and promote relaxation.

Additionally, clay art also offers a tangible and symbolic representation of their emotions, allowing them to externalize their feelings.

Here are more activities kids can try for creative expression….

Drawing or painting

Kids can use a variety of art materials, experiment with different mediums, and use different art techniques to express their emotions.

Journaling

Writing about their feelings, thoughts, and experiences can help kids process their emotions in a written format. They can also write poetry or create stories that reflect their emotional state.

Music and songwriting

Children can write lyrics or improvise melodies that capture their feelings or mood they’re in.

Activities for different age groups

There are age-appropriate activities that can provide children and adolescents with creative and expressive outlets for processing difficult emotions…

Feelings faces for pre-school children

Activities for preschool children should be simple and easy to understand. Hands-on and interactive activities are best to capture their attention and engage their interest.

One example is Feelings Faces. This activity can help children recognize and express their emotions. You will need pictures or drawings of faces with different emotions, which children can point to or mimic.

The main goal of this activity is to help very young children develop emotional literacy.

Feelings check-in for elementary children

As children grow and develop, they may be ready for more complex activities that challenge their emotional awareness and self-expression.

One such activity is Feelings Check-in, wherein they can identify and express their emotions in a supportive and non-judgmental environment.

This activity typically involves asking kids to share how they’re feeling and why. Allow them to express their emotions openly and honestly. During a Feelings Check-In, you can use questions like these to guide the discussion:

“How are you feeling today?”
“What made you feel this way?”
“Can you describe your feelings using words?”

Emotion Mindfulness Circle for middle school children

Choose activities that offer a level of complexity and depth appropriate for middle school students. Activities should encourage critical thinking, self-reflection, and creative expression, while also being accessible and engaging. Incorporate opportunities for social interaction because middle school students value peer relationships and enjoy learning and creating together.

One example is the Emotion Mindfulness Circle. This is a group activity where children can perform mindfulness exercises, breathing techniques, and guided visualizations.

It can improve their self-awareness, and promote relaxation and emotional regulation while encouraging a sense of community.

Creative writing workshops for high school students

High school students value autonomy and independence, so provide opportunities for choice and self-directed exploration when choosing an activity.

Pick those that challenge their critical thinking and encourage deeper exploration. Group discussions, peer feedback sessions, and collaborative projects can also promote a sense of connection.

Creative writing workshops can be a great way for students to explore their emotions, experiences, and identity through poetry, short stories, or essays.

They can choose their own writing prompts or try out different writing techniques.

The power of play and storytelling

From a very young age, children use play and storytelling as a means of expressing themselves and exploring the world around them. These allow them to use their innate curiosity, creativity, and imagination.

There is research that looks at how children’s pretend play and interactions with parents are associated with their ability to regulate their emotions. The researchers found that children who played pretend more often, especially with their caregivers, were better at regulating their emotions.

You can support children’s play and storytelling by actively participating in the activities with them. Ensure that children have access to different materials, toys, books, and props that inspire imaginative play and storytelling adventures.

Lead by example

Children learn best by looking at what’s around them. You can show your child that it’s okay to express emotions openly and honestly by modeling healthy emotional expression.

Share your feelings with them and show them how to cope appropriately.

Remember that you’re not alone, and you can always seek help from your trusted family, friends, support groups, or a qualified professional if you need assistance in supporting your child’s emotional expression.

Doesn’t get much better

That’s a wrap on the series, folks – I hope you enjoyed it. And most important of all, perhaps you found an idea or two that you can bring to your child’s or teen’s world.

Doesn’t get much better than that.

If you haven’t already, dig into part one: Helping children express emotions in healthy ways


Be sure to check out Michael’s work at Mental Health Center Kids.

And don’t forget about those Chipur info and inspiration article titles.

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