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Identifying and Communicating how I feel

Building your child’s skills in identifying and communicating their feelings can help them to cope with emotional changes at puberty.

Introduction

When your child starts the transition to puberty, you may notice that their moods seem more unpredictable or that they are more frequently sad, angry or frustrated. While mood swings are very normal, they can pose extra challenges for children with intellectual disability and/or autism spectrum disorder who may struggle to identify and communicate their feelings generally.

While identifying and communicating feelings can be challenging, with support and practice many young children with intellectual disability and/or autism spectrum disorder can learn how to do this successfully. If your child has difficulty identifying and communicating their feelings, you may already be working with an allied health professional to help support your child. The information below is not meant to replace the advice of health professionals but can be useful in giving you everyday opportunities to support your child to practice identifying and communicating feelings in day to day life.

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Building your child’s skills in identifying and communicating their feelings can help them to cope with emotional changes at puberty. It may also help them to understand when they are feeling overwhelmed and share these feelings before an outburst happens. Being able to identify feelings and communicate them appropriately are also important skills for your child to be able to:

Supporting your child to identify and communicate their feelings can seem like a daunting task. These skills may take a long time to develop in some children, so it’s important to be consistent in providing support.

Parents can help this process by modelling good emotional regulation in the home. You can do this by staying calm, being empathetic and not reacting harshly if strong emotions lead to challenging behaviours. See strategies below for where you can start in supporting your child to identify and communicate their emotions.

Conversation Starters

You are laughing! Can you tell me how laughing makes you feel?
(Character on TV) is showing some signs that they might be angry. Can you show/tell me what angry looks like?
I know you are going through a lot of changes right now. Changes can make us feel sad or upset. Can you show/tell me what that feels like?

Strategies for you to try

Label emotions in everyday settings

Label emotions as they occur in different situations in your child’s life. This could be when your child is reading a book, watching television or meeting family and friends. Many shows for primary school age children will cover identifying emotions, with content readily available on platforms like YouTube. We always recommend reviewing any media yourself first before watching with your child and making sure videos come from reputable sources.

In the example below, the characters are learning to identify emotions based on situations, physical signs and tone of voice:

Identify your child’s emotional response

If your child is experiencing strong emotions you can respond by identifying those emotions. For example, you may say “You’re laughing. You must be feeling happy.” Or “you’re laughing, how are you feeling right now?”

You might also use mirrors to help your child recognise what their feelings might look like on their face. You can sit with your child and ask them to make different faces or have them identify a feeling on your face. There are also a wide range of games available to help teach children about feelings. Try searching ‘Feelings games for children’.

Draw your feelings

Drawing and art can be an engaging way for your child to communicate how they are feeling. Ask your child to show you how they are feeling by drawing a face that expresses these feelings. Or you could use a large sheet of butcher’s paper to trace the outline of your child’s body. Ask your child to draw where in their body they are feeling their emotions and use different colours and shapes to symbolise that emotion.

Utilise feelings scales and emotion charts

Feelings scales and emotion charts can be made up of numbers, traffic lights or a range of faces expressing different emotions. Some children find these useful for identifying and communicating their emotions at a given moment. For example, if your child experiences something that has made them angry you can ask them to identify which face shows what they are feeling. This can be a good way to provide your child with a way to present their emotions calmly and appropriately.

Make a “Feelings Book”

To help your child identify and express feelings throughout the day, you might like to create a notebook with easy to identify faces, colours and other identifiers your child can relate to. This will help your child generalise their skills in the community and give them a quick reference guide for communication. If your child is non-verbal, this can be a particularly useful communication aid that is personalised and does not rely on computer or internet access.

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