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Teaching children to identify emotions
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Teaching children to identify emotions

erikaBy Erika Coetzee

Children deal with many of the same emotions adults do. They get angry, sad, frustrated, nervous, or embarrassed, but often, they do not have the words to talk about how they are feeling. Instead they sometimes act out these emotions in very physical and inappropriate ways i.e. tantrum, biting, kicking or throwing objects.

In order for them to express their emotions and act appropriately in any situation, they need to be able to recognise and identify when they have a specific feeling. You can give your children the necessary tools by following a few simple guidelines:

  • Discuss emotions when they occur. Help them understand emotions by first giving the feelings names and then encouraging them to talk about how they are feeling. For example, if a child is angry say, “I see you are angry. You have your arms crossed and are stomping your feet.” By giving your children a label for their emotions, you enable them to develop a vocabulary for talking about feelings.
  • Role play times when specific emotions surface by using narrative examples as well as recent experiences for the children.
  • Start a feelings journal to write about different feelings. Use it to write about events and the emotions, responses and  consequences thereof.
  • Create lots of opportunities for your children to identify feelings in themselves and others. For example, you might say to your child, “You enjoy playing this game. I see you smiling. Are you happy?” Or you might point out a situation and ask your child to reflect on what someone else may be feeling: “Sarah’s dog died. How do you think she feels?”
  • Use games or creative ways to teach your children the names of a range of emotions.
  • Remind your children to use words to explain what they are feeling, subsequently redirecting negative behaviours.
  • Offer phrase examples your children can use in emotional situations i.e. “It makes me sad when you treat me that way.”
  • Use words your children can easily understand to explain the feeling. Try to use pictures, books or videos. There are fantastic books and videos available for children of all ages that focus on dealing with emotions. These offer opportunities to discuss emotions from a safe distance. Try to relate it back to something that happens in your children’s lives.

Children who have a large vocabulary of names for feelings are better able to express their emotions using language, rather than behaviours.