The Language of Emotions
Tanya from Rattle and Mum posted: I told my four-year-old son that Mandela had died. He said “We must bring him back from heaven. I will become a fireman and rescue him”.
The naive words of a little boy who does not yet understand the concept of death and the emotions behind it (unless it impacted on him personally) emphasises the importance of giving children the language tools to identify emotions.
Emotional literacy is the ability to identify, understand, and respond to emotions in oneself and others in a healthy manner. Children who have a strong foundation in emotional literacy
- tolerate frustration better
- get into fewer fights
- engage in less self-destructive behaviour
- Are healthier,
- less lonely
- less impulsive, more focused,
- have greater academic achievement.
How can you help?
Talk about feelings
Parents can help by talking with their children about feelings. Simply telling children how they should feel or react does not help them learn to cope with strong emotions. Parents can demonstrate patience, listening skills, empathy, and problem solving. It is sometimes helpful to repeat back what you think you heard to make sure you understand what the child’s point of view is. Showing that you understand their point of view helps children feel heard and respected. These conversations can help them develop the language that goes with what they are feeling.
Learn how to read others
Handling emotions also involves recognizing how others are feeling. Parents can point out how facial expressions, gestures, and body language can give clues about how someone else is feeling.
Using your child’s favourite television programme to identify different emotions in others is a great way to match the emotion with the language.
Asking questions such as “how do you think the character is feeling?” when reading a book, can be done with a child from about 5 years old.
Help your child find words to label the emotion.
The development of a feeling word vocabulary is considered to be of critical importance in a child’s emotional development because it makes it possible for children to better understand their emotional experiences.
Children have strong emotions, but may not understand what they are feeling. Parents can help children work out what is wrong by labeling emotions for them. “You look like you are jealous of John because he has a new toy. Are you?” Provide children with alternate words to happy/sad/cross to assist them in understanding degrees of emotion.
Manage strong emotions
Parents help children gain control over strong emotions when they teach and model successful ways of coping with their own feelings, create an openness for children to express how they feel, and help children label their feelings. Children need to know having strong feelings is a normal part of life.
What is important is to set limits and rules for managing these emotions. “It is not ok to hit even when you are cross” or, “if you call Johnny a baby, it makes him feel hurt and sad; that is not okay.”
Help your child focus on fixing the problem after they have calmed down.
Developing an emotional vocabulary will not prevent the tantrums of the Terrible Two’s or the Troublesome Threes but it will provide a foundation for academic and social success and provide better self awareness in your child.