In order to correctly perceive feelings in oneself, we first have to have words to describe those feelings. Those descriptive words are called “Emotion Lexicon” – the feeling words. Many children can easily identify themselves to be “happy”, “mad” or “sad” but miss all the subtle gradations of feelings in-between because they do not have the Emotion Lexicon for those emotions.
For example, if you see a child is frustrated over a broken toy, you may say, “you look frustrated that the toy is broken.” In this instance the child learns a new feeling word “frustration” through the emotion label given by an adult. Labeling a child’s emotional state allows them to begin to identify their own internal states. This is an important step in learning to regulate emotions.
Building Emotion Lexicon
Parents and teachers can foster emotional vocabulary by teaching feeling words and their emotional definitions. Through play, conversation and special activities, adults can increase children’s Emotion Lexicon. In Havan EQ Program, we expand students’ feeling vocabulary by having special activities such as:
- Drawing Emoji
- Making feeling color wheel
- Check in with each student in a circle to share about their feelings of the day
- Reading picture books
- Move to the music
- The emotion candy game
- Making feeling posters
- Watching movies and video clips such as “Inside Out”
- Recreating emotional faces using Playdoh
- Add Sounds to Your Feelings List
Name It to Tame it
For a start, we invite you to try out our fun activity #10 with your children. Try to quiz your children by providing a sound that can be paired with a number of emotions, like a sigh that could be associated with “fatigued”, “sad”, “frustrated”, and “irritated”.
Although children don’t always know how to identify an emotion by word, they may know the sounds that accompany them. For example, your children may not know the word "worried" but they may know that "uh-oh" or the sound of air sucked in through our teeth goes with that same feeling. Similarly, “wow” is associated with “surprised”
A rich and more complex feeling word allows children (and adults alike) to make finer discriminations between feelings. This helps them to better communicate with others about their internal affective states; and to engage in discussions about their personal experiences with the world. Ultimately, labeling is a way of validating one’s emotion by acknowledging it.