Parenting experts say spending a little more time helping a child name their emotions could lead to fewer tantrums and a more positive day.

There are plenty of positive outcomes associated with naming emotions. The child may be able to regulate their emotions better, improve their social skills, and feel more connected to their parents and educators. Correctly labeling emotions can also help a child communicate their feelings without acting out.

So, how do you encourage a child to name their emotions?

  1. Encourage children to think about how they’re feeling by saying “It sounds like you are (angry, upset, happy). Is that right?” or “I can see by your face that you are  . . . “

    When children name their feelings, they can better understand what they’re feeling and why they’re feeling that way.

    In cases where children don’t know what to do when they feel a certain way, their parents and educators can suggest socially acceptable ways for them to express this emotion.

    You can tell them (for example), “when you are angry, come to me and let me know, but you cannot hit someone if you are frustrated.” Naming the emotion and then providing a model of behaviour that sets them up for social success.
  2. Connect emotions to the feelings of others around them. Parents and educators can talk to children about their feelings, as well as what others feel and express.

    For example: “You are smiling, I think that you’re very happy with that toy “ and “Look at Jo and Sam. They’re laughing. I think they are happy playing together with the blocks.”
  3. Structure activities which encourage labelling emotions. Engage your child in conversation about how he or she is feeling, act out different feelings, or make a poster with faces expressing different emotions and discuss them.

    You could also create flash cards with different expressions like anger, happiness, joy, and disgust.

    Intentionally teaching and planning such activities provides many opportunities for children to explore emotions in a prosocial manner.

Emotions by age groups

For children aged two to three years old: They will be beginning to learn and use language that is related to emotions, and to recognize feelings in themselves and others.  For example, “Mummy is happy now”.

For children aged four to five: Children start labeling their own and others’ emotions based on facial expressions or voice tones. For example, they might look at a picture in a book and say “that person looks sad”.

For school-aged children: Children use more complex words to describe feelings and their causes. For example “I want to try riding that but I’m a bit scared”.

Need help naming that emotion? Click here to download a free “Feelings Word List”.