Happy, Mad, Sad, Glad: Helping Children Identify their Emotions

  • Published: Monday, Aug. 10, 2020

     As summer comes to an end and plans for the school year unfold the children in your life might feel a wide range of emotions. It is our role as adults to help children identify those emotions. We can also model to children how to appropriately express our feelings. Children deal with many of the same emotions adult do.  

     When we teach children emotions, we think of the common emotions like happy, sad, mad, and glad. However, there are many other feelings words that children should learn to identify. For example, brave, disappointed, impatient, confused, worried, stubborn, and overwhelmed to name a few. Learning to identify and express emotions in a positive way helps children develop the skills they need to manage them effectively.  

    Children can express their emotions through words, facial expressions, actions, and play. We start learning the emotional skills we need to identify, express and manage our feelings at birth. We learn how to do this through social interactions and relationships with important people in our lives such as parents, grandparents, and care providers. As an adult in a child’s life there are many ways you can help facilitate a child’s learning about emotions and feelings. Below are just a few ways you can teach children about emotions daily.  

  • Make different emotion faces and have children guess what you might be feeling.  

  • Throughout the day, help children learn to label their own emotions. (For example, “It looks like you are feeling mad that we can’t see your friend right now.”) 

  • Read stories and have children guess how the character in the stories are feeling.  

  • Make up silly songs about different emotions.  

  • Have children look in a mirror and practice making mad/sad/happy faces.  

  • Name the feeling. Help children name their feelings by giving them a label. Naming feelings is the first step in helping children learn to identify them. It allows children to develop an emotional vocabulary so they can talk about their feelings.  

    Understanding emotions is a critical developmental milestone in a child’s overall development. It is up to adults to teach children to understand and deal with their emotions in appropriate ways. Adults need to validate children’s emotions. Teach them about emotions, help them come up with new ways to deal with emotions, give them lots of time to practice their new strategies and give positive encouragement when they use a new strategy. When kids learn to manage their emotions in childhood it leads to positive attitudes and behavior in later life.  

Writer: Amber Allen

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