Parent Toolkit




  • Take Time to Talk About Feelings With Your Child Every Day

    It can be something you work into a bus, car, or train ride with your child. Ask her what she feels like today, and tell her how you are feeling. Maybe you feel excited to have a day off to spend with her, or you’re nervous about a new job. Just by talking about emotions with your child from an early age you can help her identify those feelings in herself and make her feel comfortable talking about them. New York City-based teacher Anne Harlam suggests creating a sign or poster with your child with a choice of faces, like angry, happy, sad and calm. Your child can point to the poster when talking about how she’s feeling for extra practice identifying her feelings. 

  • Take Some Time to Talk About How You Are Feeling During the Day

    Tom Hoerr, who is Head of School at New City School in St. Louis, Missouri, suggests finding opportunities to reflect on your day and describe how you felt to your child. It could be while you’re brushing your teeth, or tucking your child in at night. Perhaps you were happy when an old friend sent an email, or upset by a customer at work. Using time to reflect and explain to your child your thoughts and actions allows your child to see how other people feel as well. 

  • Teach Your Child It's O.K. To Ask For Help

    Part of self-awareness is knowing your challenges, and asking for help when it’s needed is showing self-awareness. Author and education consultant Faye de Muyshondt recommends telling your child, “If you need help, say, ‘Help,’ and I’ll be there to jump in,” but until your child asks, try to stand back. The lesson is in struggling and understanding when to seek assistance. 

  • Don't Worry About Using Words for Feelings That Your Child May Not Understand

    Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab Director Maurice Elias says that hearing you talk about times you are excited, proud, disappointed or frustrated will help her learn how to connect feelings with words. By the time your child starts school, she should be able to speak about her feelings with more words than sad, mad, or happy. 

  • Help Your Child Learn New Words for Feelings

    For example, read a book like Llama Llama Mad at Mama, by Anna Dewdney, with your child. Use the book to introduce new words like "frustrated," "bored," or "angry" when talking with your child about how the baby llama feels while grocery shopping. When reading with your child, try to remember to point out the how the pictures show feelings you’re talking about. This can help your child learn new words for feelings and connect them with expressions and body language. The llama’s tantrum also shows your child that actions are caused by feelings, something you can point out to your child as you read the story. For more age-appropriate book examples, see our reading list

  • Let Your Child Know Her Feelings Are Important

    It can be tempting to tell your child to “stop overreacting” or “stop getting upset” when she gets frustrated over something that seems small to you -- like struggling with a toy or puzzle. Treating your child’s feelings like they’re not important can make her feel bad about her emotions or her reactions. Instead, validate her feelings by saying something like, “It can be frustrating when that toy falls apart, can’t it? I get frustrated sometimes too. Let’s see if we can fix it together.” This will help your child learn that her feelings matter and that you’re there to help. 


  • Teach Your Child to Blow Bubbles to Manage Stress

    First, blow bubbles with your child when he is not upset. While blowing bubbles, talk about how the next time your child is upset or mad he can blow imaginary bubbles to make himself feel better. In the moment, remind your child by saying, “Why don’t you blow bubbles to calm down” instead of just, “Calm down!” By giving your child a tool to calm himself (breathing deeply by “blowing bubbles”), you’re teaching him coping strategies for dealing with emotions rather than inappropriate strategies like throwing a tantrum or acting out. 

  • Never Underestimate The Power of Your Influence on Your Child

    Your child learns a lot from you and he will often copy your actions. Try to manage your emotions as much as you are able. If you’re upset or frustrated, it’s O.K. to take a break and step away from the situation for a time to let yourself cool down. Try to talk through your feelings and calming strategies with your child, too. When stuck in traffic you could say, “I’m so frustrated by this traffic jam and I’m worried we’re going to be late. I’m going to take some deep breaths and count to ten instead of blowing my horn or yelling.” This will show him everyone has feelings and behaviors they have to control. 

  • Make a "Keep Calm" Area in Your Home

    It is a place where your child can go when he needs to take a step away and calm down. Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab Director Dr. Maurice Elias suggests that it not be away from everyone or everything, but simply a comfortable area and clearly marked. He says some parents get a small square of carpet to put in a corner of a room, with a pillow or stuffed animal. This is especially useful when your child has a tantrum. Asking him to go to the “keep calm” area can make the tantrum less serious. The “keep calm” area can also serve as a source of security: if your child knows there’s a place to go to calm down and he can leave as soon as he feels better. 

  • Help Your Child Learn Routines

    You can help your child learn routines by making a poster together or drawing on a dry erase board what each day looks like. Draw a picture of eating breakfast, brushing teeth, going to school, picking up toys, eating dinner, brushing teeth, and going to sleep. Neurologist and teacher Judy Willis recommends increasing your child’s investment in the routine by offering choices during some of the actions. For example, “Which would you rather do first, brush your teeth or put on your pajamas?” Hang the picture or poster where your child can see it. Put a sticker or star next to the activity each time your child completes it. This is a great way for your child to learn self-management through routines and also work on early goal-setting.

  • Part of Self-Management is Simply Learning Acceptable Behavior

    Help your child learn what is expected of him by giving clear directions. For example, instead of saying, “Please clean up your toys,” say, “Please put your toy trucks into the red bin, and your book on the shelf.” By explaining exactly what your child should do, you’re giving him concrete examples of what you expect. “Clean up your toys” can mean different things to you and your child, and if he doesn’t understand yet what that means it can be confusing and lead to frustration for both of you. New York City-based teacher Anne Harlam suggests also telling your child why we do certain things. For example, “Please put your toys in the red bin and your book on the shelf so that you will be able to find them easily and your room will look nice and clean. Thank you for being so helpful!”

  • Teach Your Child to Apologize

    Children are not always going to be able to control their feelings and behavior. By giving your child a tool or technique for when he hurts someone’s feelings or behaves inappropriately, you’re teaching him an important skill he can turn to throughout his life. 

Social Awareness

  • Use Story Time to Develop Your Child's Social Awareness

    You can read books like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst, with your child. As you go through the story, stop and point out the feelings or reactions of the characters and ask your child how she would feel or what she would do if she were in a similar situation. Ask her how the actions of the characters in the books made others feel, and have her act out those emotions. New York City-based teacher Anne Harlam adds that it is very important to use the illustrations in the books to develop your child’s social awareness. High-quality children’s books tend to have very expressive illustrations, like the drawings in author Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggie books. For more age-appropriate book examples, see our reading list.

  • Talk To Your Child About Real-Life Social Interactions

    Highlight a conversation you had with a friend, family member, or clerk at the supermarket that happened while your child was present. Ask her to describe the words, body language and facial expressions that were exchanged. Ask her what she thought the other person felt at the end of the conversation, and tell her to use her stuffed animals to show you what she would have done in that situation. Neurologist Judy Willis suggests that you have a few cues that remind your child of what behavior is best for a situation. For example, if she is going with the family to a wedding, remind her that it is a place for her “inside” or “library” voice even if it is outdoors. 

  • Try Role-Playing With Your Child

    Begin by naming feelings like happy, sad, or tired, and take turns with your child acting them out and guessing what emotion is being shown. Director of the Rutgers Social and Emotional Laboratory Maurice Elias suggests that you choose a new feeling (such as angry), and ask your child to think about someone who is angry and what might make them feel that way. Ask her how she can tell when someone is angry. If she does not seem to know, point out the facial expressions or postures that denote anger (as well as other feelings you might choose). 

  • Teach Your Child to Blow Bubbles As a Way to Manage Anger or Stress

    First, blow bubbles with your child when he is not upset. While blowing bubbles, talk about how the next time your child is upset or mad he can blow imaginary bubbles to make himself feel better. In the moment, remind your child by saying, “Why don’t you blow bubbles to calm down” instead of just, “Calm down!” By giving your child a tool to calm himself (breathing deeply by “blowing bubbles”), you’re teaching him coping strategies for dealing with emotions rather than inappropriate strategies like throwing a tantrum or acting out. 

  • Ask Your Child About the Behavior and Feelings of Pets

    Tom Hoerr, the head of school at New City School in St. Louis, Missouri, recommends that you talk to your child about empathy by asking how a pet might be feeling. For example, you can ask her about how the family dog may be feeling after not getting a treat or when she is reprimanded for jumping on the couch. Neurologist Judy Willis adds that it is also good to ask your child about the consequences of your pet’s unintentional actions, and relate it to the unintentional actions of younger children who might take her toys or demand her attention. 

Relationship Skills

  • Help Your Child Manage Conflict

    It may be challenging for you not to step in immediately and try to make everything better for him, but this can harm his ability to find solutions for himself. Instead, work with him to find solution to problems he may be having. Watch how he handles difficult moments with his peers and try to wait to step in until you see things might not be going well. Sometime shortly after, even at bedtime, help your child review those situations and work his way through a problem with your guidance. Ask him questions about what he thinks he could do in this situation if it happens again, and what the consequences of his particular action will be. You may also want to use puppets or stuffed animals to act out conflicts that your child may be having, like struggling to share a toy with a classmate, or knowing what to say when someone is mean to him on the playground.

  • Teach Your Child the Art of Conversation

    You are boosting your child’s relationship-building skills and providing him with lessons on how to listen and join in conversations through your verbal exchanges with him. Ask questions about things that matter to him and take a moment to really listen to his response. Pay attention to the nonverbal cues that you are modeling. 

  • Set a Good Example

    Remember that you are setting the example that your child will follow, and if you are aware of your own behavior, you will be better-prepared to help him deal with his emotions, relationships and interactions. When your child sees you being patient, kind, honest and empathetic with him and others, but also speaking up for yourself when necessary, he is provided with a blueprint of proper social behavior. In particular, think about how you “play with others” when you are with your child. If you are with a group of other parents and you are all on your electronic devices, your child will see this as acceptable behavior. Let your child see you interacting with your peers in cooperative ways.

  • Talk to Your Child About Friends

    Try talking to him about friends, and discuss his experiences with his peers in a pleasant, conversational way. For example, you can ask him, “Did you make any new friends at school?” or “Did you share your toys with your friend Freddy today?” or “Why did you get upset with your sister? How do you think that made her feel?” Don’t expect a lot of great answers, but do look for gradual improvement in the connections of your questions and his answers, as well as the length of his answers.

Decision Making

  • Allow Your Child to Make Some Choices on Her Own

    As a parent, it may be tempting to step in and make all of the decisions for your child, but this doesn’t allow her to grow her decision-making skills. Instead, at this young age, allow her to make simple choices where you set the boundaries. For example, asking, “Do you want carrots or broccoli with dinner tonight?” instead of, “What vegetable do you want?” makes the decision easier on both of you. You’re allowing a choice, but both choices are good.

  • Teach Your Child Where to Seek Help

    Knowing  whom to go to for help can also be a part of responsible decision-making. Even at this  age, you can teach your child about the adults in her life to whom she can turn. When you’re out with your child, take a little time to point out the “helper adults” in the area. For example, a security officer at the mall or a police station near your local park. Tell your child that if you ever get separated in these areas she can go here for help. 

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