Tips for Building Emotional Vocabulary
As human beings, there are so many emotions we experience throughout our lives. Processing those feelings, truly understanding them and what they mean is an important part of personal growth and development. Unfortunately, this hard work of emotional discovery doesn’t come naturally. Even the most evolved among us still have moments of caveman tendencies. Don’t we all just want to pick something up and throw it when we’re really angry? What about feeling like you just want to collapse at the end of a long, stressful day? Yes, we all feel it…but our kids actually do it.
That’s right, for young children, when words don’t come easily, they often resort to the only way they know how to express their feelings…physically. For pre-school aged children, this can be exceedingly difficult because they are just entering a formal learning environment and atmosphere populated with other youngsters who are also lacking in the self-regulation department. So when the block tower tips over or a coveted toy is picked up by someone else, the tears and tantrums begin. So how can we help our kids find ways to cope? Experts say the best way is to help them find words.
It is vitally important to teach and empower children to use words to express their emotions. But of course, it is not always easy for them. They are still exploring their own feelings and encountering some for the first time.
As parents and caregivers, it is important for us to help our kids develop a wide range of vocabulary for their emotions so they can accurately describe how they feel. By using diverse and specific words to describe feelings, you can increase your child’s emotional vocabulary and give them many words they can use to describe how they feel in order to express themselves.
By intervening and teaching our kids how to expand their emotional vocabulary, they understand the subtlety of emotions. They learn that there is a wide range of emotions between good and bad and that each emotion has its corresponding causes and consequences. They also learn how to use the most appropriate words that can best describe their situation instead of throwing tantrums or resorting to violence to get attention. And at the same time, we get to support their emotional health development from early childhood to their adult lives.
So how do you get started helping your children build a big and robust emotional vocabulary? The American Academy of Pediatrics has the following recommendations.
Help explain the feeling.
Start by labeling the feeling using easy words that they can understand. You can use picture books to pair emotions with facial expressions, as well. Doing this will help them put a word to describe exactly how they feel instead of speechlessly crying or relying on tantrums.
Talk about your own feelings.
Remember to also lead by example. Talk about your own feelings and show how you express those emotions. As a parent, you are your children’s greatest role model. They will mimic how you speak and what you’re doing. So, be careful with how you express your emotions especially when you are frustrated or angry.
Examples of feeling words.
Try replacing some common feeling words with new ones to help grow your child’s vocabulary.
- Instead of saying, “I am feeling good,” teach them to say “I am –”: delighted, loved or contented
- Instead of “I feel sad,” try “I am –”: uncomfortable, worried or concerned
- Instead of “I am angry,” try “I am –”: embarrassed, overwhelmed or annoyed
Enriching your child’s emotional vocabulary is a helpful way for them to put a label on their feelings and take control of their actions. It also helps build a strong sense of self at a tender age, which can definitely help your child succeed later on.