Using language strategies to help kids talk about emotions

We’ve seen it all! crying, laughing, whinging, hitting, pinching, squealing – Children can make it quite clear how they are feeling by their actions…. and noises!

The good news is, as children begin to pick up new words they can communicate about things that upset or fascinate them and so learn new ways of regulating their behaviour.

Too often,  the vocabulary we teach our children to describe feelings is often restricted by what we think will be easier for them to learn.

So what does this mean? – It means we limit their vocabulary to usually happy and sad – these two words are very powerful, but simply not diverse enough to cover all the emotions and feelings our children are experiencing.

More importantly, if we limit what words our children are learning, we limit their ability to describe their life and environments. Wouldn’t it be nice if our children had a couple more words to describe how they’re feeling?

So how do I get started?

Help her to understand her emotions by giving her the feeling names

Encourage her to talk about how her mood – for example, ‘we are going to pizza express with Amy later, you look like you are excited!’

By giving her a label for how she is feeling  she makes a connection between the word she hears and the emotion.

This  starts to build up her vocabulary which will allow her to talk about feelings in the future.

Give her lots of opportunities to identify feelings in herself and others

You might say ‘you hurt your knee but you didn’t cry, because you are very brave!’

Or you might point out a situation they would remember ‘ Do you think mummy was brave when she hurt her toe this morning?’

The best way to teach  appropriate ways to react to things is be modelling good behaviour ourselves.

Your child learns from your behaviour. They see your facial expressions and body language when you get angry, or  frustrated.

‘When daddy gets angry he will sometimes leave the room, take a deep breath and come back when he feels calm’ This provides them with a strategy to use when they feel the same way. It also supports their understanding of recognising emotions in others.

Don’t restrict her vocabulary – the early years are the best time to teach new words. Here’s some inspiration:

  • Words: confused, brave, curious, disappointed, generous, friendly, jealous, bored, surprised, proud, calm, shy,
  • Phrases: I think, I feel, I wonder, I want

Resources to help

This website has a huge amount of resources including an excellent book list covering lots of different emotion words and feelings

Centre on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL)

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