Teaching Your Child to Manage Emotions

Many of us have experienced a child’s meltdown, or inability to calm down after an exciting day. It can be frustrating for parents when a child expresses his or her feelings in less than desirable ways, but with a little know-how, these instances can become teachable moments.

One of the greatest coping skills your child can learn is emotional management. As a child develops, they try to make sense of a myriad of feelings, and learn behaviors to deal with them. Emotions are a normal part of life, and they have the potential to influence our choices, actions, and interactions either positively or negatively. So, how can a child learn to positively express feelings such as sadness, anger, frustration, joy, or excitement?  By parental guidance and modeling.

First, teach your child to verbally identify feelings. For example, angry and happy may be easily identifiable, but does your child know a simple word for feeling embarrassed, or worried? Build your child’s vocabulary of feeling words slowly. Start with simple words like sad, mad, or happy, and then expand to more specific words like frustrated, scared, excited, calm, bored, nervous, shy, or overwhelmed. Here are some ways you can help your child’s understanding:

  • Talk about emotions during everyday routines. Narrate what you’re feeling, what your child might be feeling, and what others might be feeling.

  • Read books about emotions and point out the various faces the characters are making.

  • Create a “feelings chart” with pictures to refer to.

  • Act out emotions. Make angry faces, sad faces, and happy faces.

As your child learns to label feelings, their emotional vocabulary will help them navigate through their days.

Second, teach your child to communicate and act on feelings appropriately. When a child feels frustration, he or she may act out in negative ways, such as hitting, throwing, or screaming. But if the parent has both empathized and helped the child to identify feelings, they can also help the child discover more positive ways of expressing frustration. Let your child know that it is always appropriate to use words and positive actions to show how they are feeling. Teach your child to ask two questions:

1. What can I say?

Teach your child to use “feeling” words. Make it a goal to talk about feelings before acting out in response to them. Your child must feel confident that it is always okay to talk about feelings. Always listen to your child; as you empathize, you will validate what they are experiencing and your child will feel secure in expressing emotions to you.

2. What can I do?

Help your children discover creative ways to respond to their emotions. When they feel frustrated, they may ask someone for help. If they are angry, they might squeeze their fists or stomp their feet. When they’re sad, they may ask for a hug. And if they feel tense, they might step away to a quiet spot and take a deep breath. The possibilities are endless. Let your children come up with fun, appropriate ways to soothe themselves.

Finally, it’s important that you practice these skills when your child is calm. In the midst of a meltdown or tantrum, your child might not be able to access the necessary words to express how they are feeling. But once calm, they may be ready to discuss what happened and how the situation could have been handled differently. Eventually, your child will be able to express how they are feeling before a meltdown escalates.

You are your child’s best support and teacher of positive emotional responses. Your child will need your listening ear, your patience, and your example to learn these skills. If you stay the course, your child will begin to internalize healthy emotional behaviors.

If you have questions related to supporting your child’s development in this area, please contact one of our pediatric social workers.

Laura Mauriello, MS, LCSW, DT

Make Reading Fun For Every Child

As speech language pathologists, we are always encouraging parents to read more with their children. Some children are naturally more interested in books than others, but by making a book more than just a book, you can use them to help develop your child’s language, and encourage them to explore the world. By bringing more books into your home and exposing your child to the printed word, you are also helping them develop early literacy skills.

Make A Book Fun!

A book can be so much more than pictures and words on a page. In fact, you don’t even have to read the exact words to make it a meaningful experience. Pediatric speech therapists use books to introduce new concepts or ideas, and then extend the book into other activities. When you extend the book beyond its’ pages, your child learns through the words they hear, the pictures they see, and the objects they touch. All of this reinforces the story and makes the content of the book more meaningful for your toddler.

As you may have noticed, many children’s books have repetitive, predictable language (think Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle). Children benefit from the repetition of the same language and, for children, the anticipation of the repeated phrase is fun every time! Here is a strategy to make books more than just a 5-minute activity.

1. Pick a book that you are interested in, and read it to your children when they are awake and alert.

2. Do more with it! Depending on your child’s age and attention span, find a way to make the book more engaging. If you have a 1 year old, they can turn the pages on your cue, or you can have them point out objects as you say them. For a 2 year old, have your child hunt around the house for objects mentioned in the book. For a 3 year old, consider a home craft project to replicate a character. Use simple objects from around your house; for example you can make faces out of paper plates, create cereal sculptures, or cut out pictures from magazines!

3. Talk about the book later in the day, or better yet, read it again. This helps remind children what they learned. And remember, repetition is key!

Sarah Pifkin Ruger, MS, CF-SLP

Ask an Expert: Tummy Time

What is “tummy time” and why is it important?

Tummy Time is an important activity for your baby’s development and is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Because the AAP recommends that babies sleep on their backs for safety reasons, babies need enough supervised Tummy Time during the hours they are awake to strengthen head, neck, and upper body muscles. Tummy Time helps to build the strength and coordination needed for rolling over, crawling, reaching, and playing. Remember that all babies benefit from Tummy Time, including newborns. Pediatric occupational therapy practitioners promote a child’s development through activities such as Tummy Time, and they can help make Tummy Time a regular part of your daily routine

Playing with just your imagination: Fall!


(Photo Credit)

When the weather cooperates, fall is a great time for imaginative play outside! With falling leaves, there are many opportunities for language expansion and other developmental goals, such as gross motor movement! Have the kids make a pile with the leaves (or play with the ones you rake) and model for them to practice imitating a variety of actions, sounds, words, and phrases! Target relevant verbs (e.g. jump, fall, rake, throw, etc.) as they jump and play in the leaves. Throw them up in the air, pile them high, watch them fall from the trees, jump and stomp to listen to them crunch, and so much more! They’ll have a blast playing outside with no equipment necessary!

November Toy of the Month: PlayDough!


Playdough is an endless opportunity for targeting a variety of developmental goals, such as receptive and expressive language or fine motor skills.  Your child can use their imagination to mold it into different objects/shapes, or generally play for sensory input and language expansion.

Practice colors by naming them and then having your child identify each one, or have your child label them themselves for further expressive practice. Encourage your child to request, such as signing/saying “more” or “please,” requesting their desired color, etc. Practice acting out/modeling relevant verbs (e.g. roll, cut, squeeze, rip, smash, push, etc.) with the playdough. Encourage imitation of sounds, words/phrases, and actions.

You can make animals/objects with the playdough or find small toys to put in playdough for extended sensory play and to target other vocabulary. Modify targets as your child progresses, this is a toy that can absolutely grow with your child’s skills!

Ask an Expert: Daily Routines?

Help! My toddler often becomes very upset when transitioning between daily routines, such as getting in the car to run errands, or putting the iPad away to take a nap. What should take only a few minutes turns into a 20-minute ordeal! What can I do to make these transitions go smoother for both my child and me?

Typically, children become upset or defiant when they feel that they have no control over a situation, which causes a certain level of anxiety. Having to turn the iPad off at an arbitrary time feels so unexpected that they act out as a way to take back some control. It can also occur when they feel overwhelmed or anxious about what is going to happen next (in their day, or in that specific activity), such as when they have to get in the car. They may not know what to expect at the grocery store, despite having been there many times before. A simple, yet effective, solution to this is to implement a visual schedule into your daily routine. This allows the child to see what is coming next in their day, and gives them some control over knowing if/when an activity will end.It can be as basic as pictures of routine activities (eating breakfast, dropping sibling at school, music class, errands, lunch, nap, etc) taken on your phone or printed from the internet. I have found that phone pictures work best, as they portray the actual objects and environments that your child interacts with. You can print the pictures, laminate if desired, and add Velcro for easy manipulation of the day’s activities. As another option for kiddos who struggle to finish an undesirable activity, you may want to add an ‘all done’ or ‘stop’ envelope at the bottom for your child to deposit the pictures/activities that you have already completed. Add the remaining Velcro pieces to the outside of a manila envelope for the visual schedule, and also on the inside for storage of unused pictures.The picture below offers a great example of a visual schedule, so feel free to check it out and model your own visual schedule from the guide! Happy transitioning.

Playing with just your imagination


95ff6a6f-3813-4c8f-8ead-2d08badc4589Turn this every day routine into a fun way to promote language development and play skills! You can practice taking turns blowing bubbles in the water and have fun splashing mounds of bubbles around. There is so much wonderful vocabulary you can incorporate such a routine activity. Adding bath toys (animals, shapes, colors) can make learning fun! A few examples:  practicing animal sounds, pretending to give your animals a bath, finding different shapes/letters in bubbles. Whether you decide to add bath toys or not, the options are endless during bath time.

October: Toy of the Month

Learning Resources Super Sorting Pie7622115e-060a-4d9a-b545-288961677300

The super sorting pie is a great toy that targets a variety of language concepts. You can practice requesting different pieces of fruit, taking turns taking pieces of fruit out of the pie and putting them back in, and sharing. Additional concepts that can be targeted with this toy can include: same vs. different, color matching, and quantitative concepts (i.e. one vs. some vs. all).

(Photo Credit: Amazon)

September Community Events

Drop-In Art @ The Paintbrush 

Paint, draw, sculpt with play-do, scoop bears from the manipulatives bucket, draw big on the wall chalkboard, make a creative art/craft project to take home, and more.  Mondays & Tuesdays 9:15 AM – 11:15 AM.  All ages.  Free.

Parent & Toddler Yoga @ Lincoln Park Zoo

Connect to nature while exercising the body and imagination with your little one. Toddlers will practice fun animal yoga poses and also engage in activities like guided nature exploration, reading a storybook and more.

September 3rd & 10th from 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM. Ages 2-4 years.  $20/Child.

It’s a Bugs (and Bees!) Life @ Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Secrets of Bees is a highly interactive exhibit using live bees, costumes and props to allow families to role-play and peel back the mystery of bees.

Through October 1st.  $9 – adults; $6 – ages 3 – 12 years; Free – ages 2 & under.

A Detective Game With Three Little Kittens @ Emerald City Theater

This interactive spy story provides the purr-fect opportunity to show your little ones the mystery and excitement of live theatre.

September 12th – January 3rd.  Ages 0 – 5 years.  $15/child; $8/children 1 & under.

Learn and Play Date @ The Natalie G. Heineman Smart Love Preschool

Join Smart Love at a Free Learn & Play Date about Baby Milestones! The play date is casual and will take place in their baby room, a space specifically designed with your baby in mind.  Ages 6 – 11 months.  Free.

Ask an Expert: Communicating with peers

How can I encourage my toddler to interact more with his peers?  

Your child is learning how to engage and play with peers appropriately, so he needs you to model and guide him through that process! You can encourage peer interactions within your current surroundings through seeking out opportunities that allow your child to practice relating to other children. Some ideas include, playing simple turn-taking games with siblings at home, bringing chalk or bubbles to share at the park, or attending a neighborhood play date or library storytime.