Pediatric HealthSource: Teaching Children Emotional Empowerment

Talk to kids about their feelings and help them learn how to control them when necessary.

Parker Huston, Ph.D.
It can be hard for children to understand their emotions.

Q: How can I teach my child to express their emotions freely while having the ability to manage them when necessary?

A: One of the most important parts of being human is the range of emotions we experience. As toddlers, most children are able to distinguish between major emotions such as anger, fear, sadness and happiness. As we get older, we learn about more specific emotions, like frustration, joy and disgust.

The process of emotional empowerment allows your child to experience the wide range of emotions that gives them the rich experience of life, while teaching them how to have better control over their emotions when necessary, especially strong negative emotions like anger, fear and anxiety.

Each of the five stages in the process can be practiced:

  • The first stage is to identify emotions and what they mean, giving your child a better understanding of how to use words to express how they are feeling.
  • Next is to recognize emotions as they are being felt. Your child can only work to express and regulate their emotions if they are able to recognize them in real time and understand how they impact their thoughts and behavior.
  • Noticing and understanding emotions in others helps when forming and maintaining close personal relationships and is a core component of empathy.
  • Teaching your child to express themselves appropriately is important, because avoiding negative emotions will leave them unprepared for times when they will inevitably experience them.
  • Finally, regulating strong emotions through individual coping strategies, like deep breathing, exercise, music or other methods that are effective for your child, helps them return to a more balanced state of mind.

For more on emotional empowerment, including activities, visit On Our Sleeves.

Always consult your child’s pediatrician concerning your child’s health. 

Parker Huston, Ph.D.


To practice the elements of emotional empowerment with children, parents can:

  • Brainstorm – Starting with the most common ones, make a list of emotions on paper, a chalkboard or a whiteboard. Older children can help put them into categories, too.
  • Draw – Have your child draw a picture of a time when they experienced a certain emotion. Even if time has passed, this exercise will help them recognize their emotions in real time.
  •  Write – Together, create emotion conversation cards, do a creative writing project or create a written plan for dealing with emotions.

Parker Huston, Ph.D., is clinical director of On Our Sleeves and a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.