Behavior & Environment

Teaching Kids a Feeling Vocabulary

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For kids to effectively identify and express their feelings, they need a feeling vocabulary. Most kids know the basics of happy, mad, sad, and frustrated. From that, you can grow their vocabulary to talk about the many complex and nuanced emotions such as pride, loneliness, shame, etc. Importantly you can also help them understand the meaning of these emotions. Here are a few tips to get started.

1. Use Visual Cues
There are lots of different resources for helping kids expand their vocabulary. For younger kids, you can hang pictures of “feeling faces.” A quick Google search will give you lots of options for drawn faces, real faces, posters, cards, etc. You can even make your own by taking pictures of your kids showing emotions on their faces and then printing those out. For older kids, a list of emotions is a great way to expose them to an expanded vocabulary. Spotlighting a feeling a day or week and talking about what situations might bring up that emotion is a great way for kids to learn about new feelings in a personal way.

2.  Sportscast For Them
Kids don’t automatically know what they’re feeling. In the beginning, they need help putting a name to their emotions. When you sportscast, you help them make the connection between the meaning of the word and what is happening in their mind, body and heart. For example, when you see a toddler begin to cry after a friend takes a toy away, you can say, “It looks like you’re angry/sad/frustrated (whichever you feel best matches the situation) because Sam took the truck from you.” With an older child who is upset because their best friend ignored them at lunch, you can say, “It looks like you’re sad and confused because Monica sat with other kids during lunch when she normally sits with you.” Soon kids will be able to identify and share with you in the same way.

3.  Model Talking About Your Feelings
Kids learn best when they see you do what you’re asking them to do. It can be uncomfortable for caregivers to share their feelings; we sometimes feel we always have to be cool, calm and collected. However, showing kids how to talk about and work through big emotions like anger, shame and fear are invaluable. Of course, you always have to express your feelings in ways that are age-appropriate to the kids you care for, but all ages can benefit from modeling.

Teaching kids a feeling vocabulary can start at any age and is a foundational skill for all kids. It’s the beginning of so many other essential life skills they’ll need for happy, healthy lives.