From the time my children were very young, I had pursued parenting education resources wherever I could find them. I was impressed with the idea that even the very youngest children could benefit from learning about feelings, being able to recognize them, name them and know that feelings just are – no judgment allowed!
Talking about children’s feelings
When my younger daughter was about 3, we had an interesting conversation about her feelings.
I had worked hard to let her know that her feelings were always acceptable even if her behaviors had to be limited. We had worked on naming feelings, and I often invited her to share what she was feeling at any given moment.
One day as we had a conversation about her dilemma, she realized she felt both sad and angry at the same time. “Mommy, “she said in a perplexed voice, “I feel more than one way right now. I don’t have a word for that.”
After giving the matter a few seconds of thought, I told her I was going to teach her the word that was the name for what she was feeling— ambivalent.
After practicing the pronunciation a few times, she was quite pleased with herself that she could now explain in one word what it meant to be experiencing more than one feeling! She was quite proud when she was able to share this with her preschool teacher who I think was impressed that a child that young could accurately identify her feelings, especially her conflicting ones.
Claude Steiner notes in his excellent book, Emotional Literacy, that helping children learn this concept can equip them for life as they become clearer and accepting of their own feelings as well as the feelings of others. He encourages parents and caregivers to begin promoting emotional literacy even before children learn to speak.
By giving them words for their feelings, they can not only appreciate how we all move from one feeling to another but can also learn the words they can then share with others to explain what is going on within them.
In 1995, Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence, became a bestseller because he made a compelling case for the importance of what Steiner was calling “emotional literacy. Goleman’s research (along with research of others) showed that the person who is more emotionally intelligent actually does better in life than the person with a higher IQ.
Goleman shared what he identified as five domains of emotional intelligence:
- Knowing your emotions.
- Managing your own emotions.
- Motivating yourself.
- Recognizing and understanding other people’s emotions.
- Managing relationships.
Clearly three of these involve high levels of emotional literacy.
Of course, in order to help promote emotional literacy or intelligence within your children—if you were not blessed to have parents and caregivers who promoted this when you were younger—you can benefit from enhancing your feeling vocabulary. The websites listed below can all provide a variety of suggested vocabulary words describing feelings you can use and share with your children.
Older children (at least seven years old up through adolescence) have the opportunity to learn a whole lot more about emotions by viewing the movie Inside Out, which provides a fanciful animation of several key human emotions; joy, fear, disgust, anger and sadness.
Parents can also make it a habit to share words describing their feelings. Additionally, they can invite children to notice the people around them and guess as to how they might be feeling.
Additionally, storybooks become a great resource for noticing how the characters might be feeling: “How do you think Eeyore is feeling about losing his tail?
Invitation to Reflect
- Consider the degrees to which you have a strong emotional vocabulary. When you look at the words from the websites, how familiar are you with them? How often do you use them in your conversations with your children?
- Think about increasing your children’s feeling vocabulary by helping them identify their own feelings, share how you are feeling, including those feelings we often think of as “negative” and use the world of books, television and even people watching for opportunities to invite discussions around possible feelings others may be experiencing.
Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network
[For more information, check out www.businessballs.com and search for Emotional Intelligence]