Learning the Vocabulary of Emotion

When birthdays come around, birthday gifts are given to the birthday child and others are jealous. When a pet dies,  children grieve. When a play date cannot happen, a child is  disappointed. When an obstacle is faced, bravery is summoned.  Children can be joyful, happy or downright elated. When one  child has a friend over and the sibling does not, one is happy,  but the other is resentful. How can we bring up children and  handle all their emotions if we can’t label what emotions they  are having? The answer is – we can’t. It is important for all  parents to learn a vocabulary of emotion.

When our children have an emotion, part of how they learn  to deal with it is learning what it is. When children are in an  emotional state they don’t know if it will last forever or go  away shortly. A feeling can be negative or positive. Kids may  want joyful emotions to last forever. On the other hand, sad  emotions feel like they will last forever. In either case,  emotions are learning opportunities. To teach about emotion  parents need to label it for the child. These are new  experiences for them. After a label, a parent can relate an  experience with that emotion. “I was disappointed last week  when daddy had to work late and we couldn’t go out to dinner.  Remember?” This shows the child that you have been there – and  survived the emotion. Then the child should be allowed to get  over their emotion – to have it, own it and learn how to resolve  it. It is not the parent’s job to get the child out of the  emotion. The child will only learn to get things by using the  emotion another time.

So, how does a parent learn a vocabulary of emotion? Let’s  start with these words: Happy, sad, angry, disappointed,  depressed, enraged, surprised, embarrassed, scared, brave,  aggressive, defensive, elated, lonely, jealous, resentful,  frustrated, mourning, sorry, pensive, love, hate, proud. This  is a start. Learn these words and what they mean. More  importantly, notice when your child experiences the emotion and  label it for them. “It seems you are jealous that you didn’t  get a present. We all get jealous at times.” Then let your  child experience the emotion. I am convinced that we are doing  more harm to children by robbing them of their emotional  experiences than we would do by labeling the experience and  letting them own it. When children grow having emotions and  understanding them, they become more stable young adults. If  children grow up in families that deny emotion or avoid dealing  with emotion, kids become confused by emotion well into  adulthood. Take the first step in helping your kids. Label their  emotion and show some understanding of it- they will thank you  when they become a mature adult.