Understanding Feelings

Communication is Key

Children with strong communication skills can seek help when they need it. Children who can identify and express their emotions are less likely to act out, hurt themselves or others, or develop unhealthy forms of coping.

Being able to have strong, meaningful conversations with a child is based on a foundation of trust. Every child needs a trusted adult in their life to serve as a positive role model for communicating and managing their emotions. Even more importantly, trusted adults are someone kids can talk to about anything.

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How to be a Trusted Adult

Trusted adults serve as good role models for kids when it comes to communicating feelings. 

This activity should take you approximately 15 minutes to complete – if you need to take a break, you can pick up where you left off!

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Talking about feelings

Managing the Conversation

A good trusted adult is open and available to a kid when they want to talk about their feelings. To help navigate these important conversations, BACK up and follow these steps: 

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Be Open
Be open to being asked questions and open to providing thoughtful answers. This means being a good, active listener and never responding with judgement or criticism.
Ask Questions
Ask your child questions to understand the root of what they're thinking and feeling. Kids don't always have the best tools to communicate exactly what they're feeling or needing. It is up to you to listen and figure out what's going on.
Circle Back
Are you facing a conversation you're not sure how to respond to? That's ok! You don't have to have all the answers right away. Let your child know that you will think about it and circle back to them.
Know Your Audience
When talking to your child, be sure your response is age appropriate. This includes the language that you use, the type of information you discuss, and the amount of information you provide.

Managing feelings

Tackling the Tough Conversations

Help your child cope with their emotions in the following ways:

  • TEACH your child a broad range of words to express themselves. Instead of happy try "excited" or "glad."
  • ASK before you assume. If your child is displaying strong emotions, ask questions to figure out what's really going on.
  • MODEL good behavior and set a good example when it comes to expressing yourself and managing your own emotions.

Coping with Emotions

As a caregiver, you will be faced many times with the task of having difficult conversations. Those conversations could involve:

  • Something happening within your family
  • Difficult or tragic news happening in the world or your community
  • Navigating challenges at school or with friends
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Talking tips

No matter how big or small the issue is, these Talking Tips can help you can navigate tough conversations with the children in your life.

The Timing: If a difficult or life-changing event is happening within your home or to your family, like death or divorce, you may need to be the one to approach your child and start the conversation.

Talking Tips:

  • Reassure your child that their behavior had nothing to do with what happened and did not contribute to the change
  • Brace yourself for a reaction on either end of the spectrum. They could get more emotional than you anticipated or hardly react at all

The Timing: Depending on the subject and your child’s age, it can be OK to wait for them to approach you with questions before you have the conversation about what’s going on.

Talking Tips:

  • Look for the positives. Have your child create a short list of things they’re looking forward to help them see good in the future
  • Don’t feel like you need to rationalize. It’s more important that you’re honest about what’s happening and more importantly, just listen

The Timing: These topics are often best to chat about on the way to or from school, before bed, at the dinner table, or during other daily activities.

Talking Tips:

  • Remind children that these kinds of difficulties are often temporary. With some effort, they can resolve these matters quickly
  • Something your child is emotional over might not seem like a big deal to you. Try not to dismiss their feelings or stress.


  • Be honest, be clear, and be concrete
  • Balance your reaction and emotions
  • Resist the urge to fill the silence
  • Allow them time to process
  • Let your child know you love them no matter what

Check out our course  “How to Be a Trusted Adult” for more information and tips.

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Ask the experts

If you suspect abuse, the best thing to do is talk to your child about it. Find a comfortable space to talk and remain calm throughout the conversation. You can say something like, “You know it’s my job to keep you safe and healthy. I want you to know you can always talk to me about anything, and we’ll work through it together.” Avoid asking if someone is hurting them; understand that sexual abuse can feel good to a child, so they might not view it as being hurt. Don’t pressure the child if they aren’t ready to talk to you, but make sure they know you’re available and that they’re not in trouble. Reassure them that you are simply asking because you are concerned about them. If they do disclose abuse, take them seriously, tell them you believe them, and thank them for telling you. Make sure they know the abuse was not their fault and that they didn’t do anything wrong. Before you report the abuse, tell the child that you’re going to talk to someone who can help, and that this is what needs to happen to keep the child safe. This resource provides more information on how to have this conversation and can help you find your local Child Protective Services phone number to report abuse.

Kids are going to decide on their own who they are comfortable talking to and sharing information with. This might be another family member or they might have a teacher, coach, or neighbor they feel they can confide in. Be sure you know who your child is spending time with, and consider having a conversation with that adult to set boundaries about what kind of information you would want them to share back with you. Be clear that if the child’s health or safety is at risk, that they will get you involved.

Start by modeling healthy behaviors and communication. If a child tells you something or asks you a question, take them seriously and help them. You can also say to them, “If you ever need anything, you can always talk to me – and if I’m not nearby, you can call or text.” Trust and healthy communication is built overtime through small connections and interactions. If the child ever discloses something about their health or safety that concerns you, be sure to alert their guardian or someone else who can enlist the proper help.



Now that you've prepared, engage your child in the conversation!

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