For so many children (and, let’s face it, many adults too) identifying, processing and communicating feelings can be really hard—especially when the emotions are difficult or complicated. Some of the difficulty lies in the fact that it’s a fairly abstract concept. It’s not always easy to explain sadness, anger, excitement or fear, for example—especially when the trigger isn’t obvious. A child knows something isn’t right but zeroing in on the status of their emotions is beyond them; instead, they act out in the form of temper tantrums, defiance, aggression and regression.
Enter Feelu, a wellness app for children designed to help with a number of common mental health issues, including the exploration and communication of feelings (Feelu also has an accompanying book called Feelu: Explore Your Feelings). It helps children to understand that there is a healthy way to handle their emotions. For Feelu’s creator Niloufar Shafiei, a computer scientist, the founder of Black Whale Technology and a mom of two, designing an app around children and mental health just made sense. “Having two young children myself, I wanted to create an app that was simple and light in design, in order to minimize distraction, with elements that would help kids with exploring feelings,” says Shafiei. With this in mind, Feelu includes a section to help kids identify how they’re feeling, using faces not unlike the well-known Wong-Baker pain scale, to help parents get an idea of their child’s emotional state.
Other elements of the app include a section on kindness, which teaches acceptance and treating other people with respect; a section on mindfulness, facilitated through meditation; an interactive section that prompts kids to identify what they are grateful for, as well as to save a record of their feelings; and a section on bullying, and how to respond in moments where the child may feel intimidated. Feelu is a tool parents can use to connect with their little ones but there are also many parts of the app the child can facilitate on their own, learning from the built-in activities and games.
Apps like Feelu are just one way parents can help kids learn to process and express how they feel. There are other ways families can work to create an open atmosphere where vulnerability is welcomed and feelings are discussed on the regular. Some of these strategies include the following:
Use examples to teach kids to name feelings.
Pause while reading a book or watching a TV show and ask your kids to reflect on how the characters might feel. When you talk about other people’s feelings, it allows kids to recognize that everyone has emotions and that it’s okay to share them. It also helps to teach empathy for others.
Check in often.
Ask how your child’s day went but go a step further and press for how they felt at different points in their day. If they tell you a friend was mean to them at recess, ask how it made them feel. If they are proud of a mark on a test, get them to describe that feeling of satisfaction and excitement. The more you talk about feelings, the more it normalizes the practice.
Learn to listen without interrupting or judging.
Even young children know when they aren’t being heard. When they open up, listen attentively, and don’t feel the need to jump in and offer advice. A child will stop sharing if the reaction to their feelings seems like judgement. When a child tells you how they feel, just try to hear them and validate their position.
Role model vulnerability.
Don’t hide how you feel. Sharing appropriate amounts of information when you feel happy, sad, frustrated, etc. will help your children learn to be comfortable with this type of openness.
Offer praise for shared emotions.
Giving positive reinforcement when your child shares their emotions in a healthy way will entice them to continue this practice.
With open communication and encouragement, kids will learn to identify their triggers and share their feelings, which is the first step to teaching kids coping strategies when faced with a difficult or uncomfortable emotion (and if you think about it, there may be nothing more vital to raising well-adjusted adults than that!).
Feelu is available on the App Store. The accompanying book, Feelu: Explore Your Feelings, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indigo and Bookshop.