The Comfort, Play, and Teach approach allows parents to help their children express and control their emotions.
Children have big feelings, but they don’t always know how to express them in healthy ways. Sometimes, they’re overwhelmed by their emotions and unable to control them. The Comfort, Play, and Teach approach helps young kids learn emotional self-regulation.
See how this mother reacts when her child gets upset.
An effective way to comfort your child is to acknowledge and validate their feelings. For example, you can say, “I know you’re very disappointed that this gift isn’t for you.” Naming their emotion will help them learn to control what they’re feeling.
Sharing your own feelings with your child can also provide comfort. For instance, you can talk about the last time you felt frustrated or sad. This helps your child understand that it’s okay to have emotions and that they shouldn’t hide them or feel ashamed.
Play is a great way for children to learn about different emotions. Specifically, playing make-believe provides children with a safe setting to experience a wide range of emotions and imagine themselves in different situations.
For example, kids will often play doctor. In this typical kindergarten role-playing game, the child pretending to be the doctor might say something like, “This will hurt a bit, but you’ll feel better later.” This type of play allows children to control a scary situation and decide how it will turn out.
Reading books about specific situations is another effective and fun way to help children manage certain emotions, such as fear of the dark or grief after the loss of a pet.
To show your child how to handle big feelings, teach by example. If you keep a handle on your emotions and calm yourself down in frustrating or stressful situations, your child will learn to do the same.
For instance, during a long wait, you can say, “I’m frustrated that I’ve been waiting for so long, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m going to take a deep breath and find an activity to keep me busy.” This is a very effective way to get your message across.
Teach your child to talk about how they’re feeling. If you help your child understand what they’re feeling and why, they’ll have an easier time staying calm in emotional situations.
Scientific review: Liane Comeau, Ph.D., early childhood scientific consultant
Translation and adaptation: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: September 2017