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Learning About Emotions

Week One: Label the emotion

When our children are young, they only have two ways to express emotions, smiling and crying! As they grow, they develop more facial expressions and gestures to express their emotions. Eventually they will learn a few words like happy, sad and cranky. Emotions are complex things that can be very hard for our little ones to talk about (sometimes it’s hard for us adults to express our feelings in words!!). Our little ones need to learn how to identify their feelings and express them in words. One way you can help them with this is the label the emotions that they are experiencing. If you see your little one up at dawn and dressed hours before it’s time to leave, it might seem obvious to you that they are excited for what is happening that day. Point that out to them! “Wow! You’re dressed already? You must be very excited to go to the movies!”. Similarly, when we see them moping around we can say “it looks like you might be sad about something”. We can also talk about our own emotions to help them learn new words. For example “I am feeling happy today because we get to go to the park”.

Week Two: Talk about degrees of emotion

The English language has many words to express different shades of emotion. Take the words ‘sad’ and ‘disappointed’, ‘disappointed’ may feel quite similar to ‘sadness’, but it comes from a specific cause, something not happening as we expected. I’m sure we’ve all been frustrated by sending our kids on an excursion, only to have them tell us later ‘it was good’. That’s it?! It wasn’t amazing or incredible or exciting?! Here are a couple of tips to help our young ones learn degrees of emotion. All over Pinterest lately I’ve seen paint samples used as ways of teaching feeling words. For example, if you have 4 shades of red on one card, pick four different, but related emotions, the deeper the colour, the more intense the emotion. There’s also a lovely interactive wheel online which shows degrees of emotion and how closely related the emotions are. When you click on a word, it shows a person experiencing that emotion and gives a definition of the word. Check it out here:

Week Three: Learn about emotions through books

Books are a great way to discuss feelings and emotions with your little ones. Checking in every so often and asking ‘how do you think this character is feeling?’, is a great way to talk about emotions and also helps you understand how well your child is comprehending the story. Picture books can be helpful for young ones, as they often show the characters’ faces changing with their emotions. This is helpful when your young one is just learning emotion words and struggles to answer questions like ‘how are they feeling?’. You can show them that the character has a smile and is probably feeling pleased or happy. For older children, use books without pictures and encourage your child to answer questions like ‘why are they feeling that way?’.

Week Four: Discuss friends’ emotions

Most of the time, our emotions bring richness and wonder to our lives. But they can be troublesome, particularly when we’re in conflict with our friends. Our emotions can get in the way of solving the problem. This is a particular issue for our little ones, who are still learning how to deal with all of their emotions and the complex social rules of the playground. We can help them by talking about their conflicts while they are calm. It helps to talk both about how they were feeling and about how they think their friend was feeling at the time. It’s difficult to stay angry with our friends when we take the time to think about how they were feeling. At Newcastle Speech Pathology, we often use social stories to help young ones plan ahead for how they will behave when they feel frustrated. We acknowledge that it’s normal to feel frustrated when you have to pack up, and help our young ones see that taking a deep breath and finding space alone, is better than biting or hitting those around us.

Written by Bec,

Speech Pathologist

Newcastle Speech Pathology

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