How to Reflect Feelings to Your Child

One of the easiest ways to help children learn about their feelings is reflection. Reflection helps the child understand the emotions they have in their bodies. What exactly is reflecting emotions and how is it done? 

Reflecting feelings is determining the feelings and emotions in your child’s verbal and body language and stating (or reflecting) those feelings back to them. “You feel frustrated you don’t understand the math problem.”  “You feel happy when playing with your new truck.” 

How Does Reflecting Work?

Reflecting does not involve you asking questions, introducing a new topic or leading the conversation in another direction.  Children are helped through reflecting as it allows them to understand the sensations each emotion gives to the body.  

Just reflecting feelings alone can make a child feel validated, understood, and listened to, and it can even bring awareness to hidden secondary emotions.  Once the feeling is named, we can, as Daniel Seigel says, “name it to tame it.”  Meaning, we can then utilize coping skills to regulate us through the strong emotion. 

Stay Calm and Don’t Add Extras

Some guidelines to remember when reflecting feelings are to be natural. The more authentic your connection is with your child, the sooner they will be able to calm down. Always remain non-directive and nonjudgmental. If you say to your child, “I see you are angry.” Do not add, I do not appreciate this behavior. 

Look for non-verbal as well as verbal cues. We have all had those conversations where we ask our child how they are and they respond softly, “fine” while they are slouched and frowning. In this case reflect, “You seem sad about something.”

Do not question or add meaning to your reflection. As in our previous example, “You seem sad about something.” Do not add, as much as you want to, what happened, or you must have had a bad day at school. 

Words Matter

The first step to reflecting is to select a sentence stem: You feel… it sounds like… what I hear you say is. Always reflect in present tense to remain in the here and now. Then add in a feeling word. If you wanted to, you could then add context. Such as, “You feel scared when mommy and daddy leave you alone in the dark.” 

Our goal in reflecting feelings to our children is to teach them to use I statements in describing their emotions. I feel hurt when you don’t have time to play with me. 

Outcomes of Reflecting

One of the outcomes of reflecting feelings to children is the way that at times, it instantly diffuses the problem. Kids are immediately calmer because they feel that someone understands what they are experiencing. Even when something is frustrating to children, when a parent acknowledges that they know how it feels and that it makes sense to be upset, they no longer need to SHOW how frustrated they are. The desire to act out the feeling disappears, and therefore the undesirable behavior stops as well. 

Another outcome of reflecting feelings is that as kids hear their feelings labeled and spoken to them, they are able to connect their internal experience to a word. Then in the future, when they feel the same sensations and emotions again, they can quickly recall the feeling to communicate verbally instead of acting out.

Once you begin to play with your child and/or recognize behavioral patterns in similar situations, you can communicate to your child that you are aware of what he or she is feeling.

By using this technique, you will find you know more about how your child feels than you think, even if he or she never tells you a feeling. This also lets your child know you are aware of what is going on with his or her emotions and moods.

If you are interested in more ways to help your child understand, regulate, and cope with emotions sign up for my mailing list HERE. If you feel your child has complex emotions and needs extra help to manage them, CONTACT me to see how I can help.

3 thoughts on “How to Reflect Feelings to Your Child”

  1. Thank you for sharing the concept. After labelling the feeling – “You seem upset”. If the child does not contribute back to the conversation, where do we go from here?

    1. You can make observations. I notice you are frowning. I see your arms crossed. Then, reflect your feelings, I am also upset. I am going to take a deep breath to calm myself down.

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