Simple As That: Journaling Big Feelings


As parents, we know that the source of much frustration for children is an inability to communicate what they are feeling – particularly when those feelings are big and scary or upsetting.  A few months ago, we discussed some peaceful and positive solutions for anger and hitting.

Several weeks later, a friend of mine emailed me to share with me an unexpected and powerful outlet for these big feelings: journaling.

Here is what she wrote:

I have been talking to EB a lot over the past couple of months about journaling.  I think it started when she saw me writing and asked what it was . . .  I told her that journaling is something she could do for herself, explaining that it is a great way to just get your thoughts and feelings out of your head, no matter what you are feeling.


Lately she has been going through some real emotional struggles.  I am certain this is all developmentally appropriate for a four year old girl.  But she gets frustrated and weepy and dramatic for no apparent reason, and then has the hardest time articulating what is going on.  She’ll even say “I just don’t know what I’m thinking” or “I just don’t know why I did that.”  In fact, last week she told me, after doing something about which I was not pleased, “I don’t know why I did it mommy.  I tried not to, but my brain wanted to and I just couldn’t stop it.”  So, lots going on in that pre-K head.


This morning, she and her brother (LM) were having a hard time getting along.  Just before we were ready to leave the house, she came to me with a notebook opened to a particular page.  On the page, I saw that she had written (in no real order) “EB,” “LM,” some unintelligible “words,” and drawn a sad face and a bunch of hearts.  In a very distressed voice she said “Mommy!  LM is being mean to me, and it is making me very sad.  I need him to be nice and love me, and . . . see!”  She shoved the notebook in front of me.


I just melted.  Not at the sentiment, although it was sweet.  But at the fact that the journaling concept appears to have actually been sinking in!  I became ecstatic – I asked her if that was her journal (she looked at me sort of funny), and then I explained to her that that was exactly what journaling is all about.  She suddenly overcame whatever major brotherly offense was ailing her, and grinned at her unexpected discovery.


Anyway, I only share that because no one told me about journaling as a very young child, and I have wished that it had become part of my life earlier than it did.  Particularly with such an emotional child, I really wanted to introduce her to this outlet.  Of course, drawing pictures and unintelligible sentences is perfectly appropriate – she knows what it means and it made her feel better.


We all know how terribly frustrating it can be to have difficulty expressing ourselves.  Imagine how much harder it must be for children who quite literally don’t have the words to put to those big feelings.


I have to agree with my friend in that  journaling provides an amazingly powerful avenue for working through feelings in my own life, and this is a tool I want to encourage my children to use in learning how to work through the “big stuff” they encounter on a daily basis.


Do you journal thoughts, feelings, and ideas? Have any of your children take up this form of communication?

This post originally appeared October 2009.

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  1. Wow, this is exactly what I needed! My daughter is nearly 4 1/2 and has a hard time expressing her feelings. She has been acting out a bit the last few days and I’m sure it has to do with adjusting to preschool (which she thankfully loves) and the new baby coming (8 weeks away) that she will be sharing a room with. Will have to find her a cool notebook and see what she does. Thanks.

    • Wow! What IS it about four and a half? We have been in this stage with our four and a half year old for a few months now. Must be a very delicate age.

      I’m glad this was helpful to you and I just know your daughter will love having her old super cool notebook in which she can express what she has going on in her mind.
      .-= Megan´s last blog ..Simple As That: Journaling Big Feelings =-.

  2. Thanks for posting this. My oldest (3.5) has been really angry and acting out lately. I’ve tried getting him to talk about it but he doesn’t seem to be able to express what’s going on. I’m definitely going to sit down with him and see if we can journal some pictures about it.

    I journal ALOT and it really helps me to short through some things. Maybe it will be his outlet as well.
    .-= LaToya´s last blog ..Alphabitty Moments E =-.

  3. I have tried keeping a written journal several different times over the years but could never commit to it. Writing my blog is like writing a journal for me. I am very committed to it and find that it is a great way for me to archive the things that I do with my kids.

    My daughters and I made a bunch of small, blank notebooks that they like to write in. I didn’t actually call them journals, but I think the next time we pull the books out I will explore that with them. I think my 5 year old would be really into keeping a journal.

    Thanks for the idea.

    .-= The Orchard´s last blog ..My First Giveaway! (Blogtoberfest 5) =-.

    • I am the same way, Tricia! I have not been very consistent with pen and paper journaling. I mostly use it for negative emotions, but I don’t think to write down the joyful things in life. I do far more of that through blogging!

      I think the four to five range is a great age to take off with this idea. Some kinds will be into it and some won’t – but it’s always nice to have another tool with which to communicate, right?

  4. This is a lovely idea. I have kept a fairly regular journal since I was able to write. I can see how it could also be helpful to children in the pre-writing stage, and a great method for self-expression.

    Thanks for the thought,

    .-= steadymom´s last blog ..The Gift =-.

    • Definitely great for pre-writing stage and it seems like it would make a nice transition into the reading/writing era . . . if they are already familiar with the concept, maybe it would spark an early love of journaling.

  5. Megan,

    I think this is a great idea for kids who can write or even draw at younger age. I tell it to my kids, it okay to cry, feel angry, but it is not okay to act out on these feelings. Art, writings, or even making something based on how one feels can have a great resolution. Thanks for this.
    .-= Zengirl´s last blog ..10 Creative and Frugal hacks =-.

    • That really is one of the most challenging parts of helping kids deal with anger and frustration – teaching them (and modeling for them!) what is okay and what is not okay when they have these big feelings. My daughter hasn’t gotten into the journaling idea as much as I might like for her to, but she is very keen on making “angry art” that later resolves itself into “happy art.”
      .-= Megan´s last blog ..Simple As That: Journaling Big Feelings =-.

  6. I think journaling is a great thing for kids and adults. We seem to lack ‘staying power’ though, we jump in all excited and then a few weeks later we peeter out! We tried photo journaling this summer, which was a really fun way to journal!
    ~ joey ~´s latest post: wee witches – tutorial


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