“Who wants to be an emotional millionaire?”

Happy. Sad.

Most youngsters can recognize these feelings from a very early age.

However, what about the myriad of other feelings that pop up within our hearts?

Anger. Loneliness. Excitement. Jealousy. Worry. Disappointment. Anticipation

The ability to express and recognize our emotions has a tremendous impact on our lives.

Our ability to communicate with others is vastly improved; which, in turn, will boost our social and professional life.

Recognition of our feelings helps us cope with the inevitable bumps in the road we call ‘life’.

One of the greatest gifts you, as a parent, can give your child- is to teach your child the language of emotions. Your youngster will grow up to be a far better spouse, parent, and employee if he can understand and verbalize emotions.

Emotional vocabulary is the first step:

– Matching facial expressions with emotions beyond the standard ‘sad’ and ‘happy’. Example: Now Mom looks angry; Dad looks surprised. The ability to identify and name the emotion gives the chld ownership of the feeling, which will help her cope with it when the time comes.

Identifying emotional expressions is the second step:

– In addition to facial expressions, body language can communicate a feeling. Actions and words also convey emotions. When a child can connect a specific emotion to specific gestures or actions, he can better understand what other people are feeling. Example: When Mom is pacing with the phone, she is busy; if Dad is raising his voice, he is feeling angry.

Understanding the causes and effects of emotions is the third step:

– As parents, we often strive to teach our children natural causes. If you forget your homework at home, the teacher will be disappointed. If you place your glass at the edge of the table, it is likely to spill. Similarly, there are emotional rules: Jealousy always has a source; disappointment can be traced to a specific cause. Example: Because I wasn’t careful with the appliance, it broke and I am upset. Or, as a result of my persistence in a certain endeavor, I have accomplished a lot and feel proud of myself.

Helpful hints:

Make it a habit to identify emotions by name:

“Oh, my, you must be livid that Mom went shopping without you!”

“You seem to be feeling satisfied.”

“You can’t decide which one to choose? Sometimes I also feel undecided.”

“I was so worried when the carpool did not bring you home. Were you worried while you were waiting for such a long time?”

Keep in mind:

Our job as parents is not to ensure our children’s happiness.

Rather, our role is to provide our children with the tools that they need to deal life’s ups and downs.

By teaching our children the language of emotions, and sharpening their awareness of feelings, we will help them cope with whatever curve balls life may throw, and better relate to those around them.

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  1. As a social worker, I must reiterate what Ellen wrote here.

    Teaching your child to understand, own, and thus, master, his/her emotions is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give!

    If more parents would do so, I would have much less business.

    Keep up the terrific Small Souls articles!

  2. Great insightful article. Explaining our own feelings and reactions also helps the child understand that things that upset you are not necessarily their fault.

    I tried to remember to communicate to my daughter when I was frustrated or upset that it was not about her. It was especially trying sometimes -working at home when she was small. But when I took time to explain what was going on, she would go occupy herself while I finished up. We lived through it, and she seems to have a pretty good head on her shoulders!

    Thanks Ellen 🙂

  3. Can anyone recommend any books or other resources to help us ‘practice?’ I didn’t have very good role models myself, and have 1 jealous preschooler (who wishes he could go to school) and 1 jealous Kindergartner (who wishes he could stay home). I’d like to do as much homework as I can to help them through this complicated time and teach them how to understand, own & master their emotions.

  4. THis is all excellent.
    My daughter has problems distinguishing between emotions to do with raised voices – whether excited, indignant or furious she always thinks teh speaker is angry. Do you think this is coming from from a parent who often raises his voice? I try to explain the different emtions but she reacts as if it is anger…

  5. As the parent of a 9-year old with an Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis (high end of the autism spectrum), identifying emotions is important enough that reading facial expressions and body language is taught like an academic subject and ranks with math and reading. If you don’t have clue about another person’s emotional state an otherwise friendly conversation can spiral out of control pretty quickly.

    Self esteem is often about being able to accurately predict what will happen and feeling good about the prediction being right. Too many bad predictions and a person’s own self doubt can drain joy out of life.

    Understanding emotions for a kiddo/adult on the autism spectrum is really hard work, but probably worth the effort to study and become proficient. However, just as you would never go up to a person in a wheel chair and say, “Hey, you can walk if you just try hard enough.” recognize that part of the definition of autism is great difficulty with this part of the brain.

    Peace, Sarah A.K.A. Luke’s mom

  6. I just did a search on Amazon for books about feelings, and I found a great list here

  7. Lastly, if you’re looking to teach emotions, there are LOTS of books, DVDs, and on-line resources. A good source for free picture cards is http://www.do2learn.com/picturecards/printcards/social_emotionshealthpeople.htm


  9. I need to remind it more often because the way I grew up…my parents have ignored me and now I am a mother of four , so I try my best to be a better parent and have more time to be with them. Thank you for sharing and it helps me to remember what’s important for me and my children.

  10. I think teaching our children about specific feelings is a critical step to equipping them to learn self-control. Teaching a child to manage his own feelings in a non-destructive manner and to process and channel those emotions in a productive manner will set him up for success in school, work and all his relationships. A great book that addresses this is The Five Love Languages of Children. It has a chapter on teaching a child to climb the anger management ladder.

    Personally, my husband came from a house where emotions were hidden and repressed, while I grew up in a house where emotions were splayed all over the place with no restraint. With all the difficulties that we’ve had in the past communicating and understanding one another, I can see how being taught the language of feelings and self-management would have helped us begin our marriage so differently. My children are learning skills that are just as (if not more) important as academics and values.

    Feelings are amoral…what you do with those feelings can have a positive or negative impact on yourself and others. A brilliant child with great talents can grow up to be a cruel and selfish adult who climbs the ladder of success on the backs of others, while an average child with no outstanding skills can manage to become a person who impacts his family, friends and community for good because of his ability to channel his emotions to produce effective change around him.

    Wonderful commentary!

  11. One thing I thought of while reading: ALLOW your children to feel their emotions. Instead of saying “Don’t be sad,” “Don’t be angry,” we need to affirm our children for the feelings they have so that they grow up ABLE to express them in a healthy way. If a kid wants to have a tantrum, maybe they just need to cry. We allow and encourage our daughter, like after the second week of preschool when she was emotionally learning to distance from a stay-at-home with Mom life, she just broke down and we told her, “It’s ok to cry honey, let it out.” After five very long minutes she was done and happy as a clam.

  12. Thank you, Ellen, for this great article. I have shared it with parents on our school council, as I have shared many of your past articles.

  13. Racquel Dominguez says:

    At the center I work for, the preschool classroom has several children who do not know how to express their emotions. I honestly feel the teachers who work in the classroom do not make the children feel any better by threatening them to call their parents or tell their parents they had a bad day. I got an opportunity to sub in the class and acknowledged the children’s feelings and told them it was o.k. to feel angry, sad, etc. After a short moment, it allowed the child to calm down and go back to what the child was doing. I plan on making several copies for my center and passing out this article.

  14. M. Hellmann says:

    I have a son with dyslexia and sometimes it seems like he is unable to read the facial expressions and non-verbal messages of others. I don’t know if I am projecting his difficulty with words innappropriately, but when I watch him, it just seems he is totally oblivious to those cues that we take for granted…. His best friends seem to cue him sometimes in social interactions – I don’t even know if they are aware of it, this subtle “telling him what to do.”

    Unfortunately, he is in high school now and I have become suddenly stupid in his opinion, so I am hindered in offering cues…