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Feature Article


Encouraging Young Children to Express Feelings about Family Transitions

Kim Leon, Ph.D., Former Human Development and Family Studies, College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia

Young children often express their feelings through play or artwork, instead of talking about them. You can provide your child with play materials that may help him or her express feelings. Suggested materials for toddlers are: playdoh or clay, art supplies, puppets, dolls, dollhouse and furniture, stuffed animals, and dress-up clothes. Watch your children playing and notice themes that seem related to family changes, for example, pretending to pack a suitcase and move away. Try to avoid correcting your child's play or drawings or asking direct questions. Children are more likely to open up when adults watch them, wait until the child is ready to talk, and make indirect comments, like "I wonder why your doll is sad."

Reading short, simple books with your older infant or toddler can help your child express feelings and learn language. Books can be a good starting point for talking with older toddlers about their feelings. For example, you can begin with questions or comments about the story such as, "Those baby owls look very sad. Why do you think they're so sad?" then move to questions about your child's feelings, for example, "What makes you feel sad?" or "I bet they think their mommy's not coming back. Do you think that sometimes?" Books that address the topics of feelings, families, and separation are especially appropriate for this age group. Some recommended books for infants and toddlers are:

Guess How Much I Love You! Sam McBratney & Anita Jeram (1994). Candlewick Press. A warm story about a father rabbit's boundless love for his baby bunny.

Owl Babies. Martin Waddell & Patrick Benson (1996). Candlewick Press. In this book, three baby owls find their mother gone, wonder where she is, and are reassured when she returns. This is a comforting story for children who are having problems with separation anxiety.

I Love You All the Time. Jessica Hirschman, Jennifer Cole, & Bonnie Bright (2000). Cookie Bear Press, Inc. This story reminds children that their parents and other family members love them no matter where they live or how busy they are.

Baby Faces. Margaret Miller (1998). Little Simon. Features color photographs that capture the moods and expressions of babies of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

How are You Peeling: Foods with Moods. Saxton Freymann & Joost Elffers (1999). Arther A. Levine Books. This funny, clever book features brightly colored photographs of vegetables and fruits that appear to have facial expressions.



Last Updated 05/11/2009


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