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Identifying Emotions: Teaching Kids How To Identify Emotions

Kids aren’t born with the ability to identify emotions, so they need to learn how to identify emotions. Help your kids learn all about identifying emotions with these tips and the free identifying emotions worksheet printable!

Babies are so present in the moment, right? When they are hungry, they cry. When they’re happy, they smile. You might think that expressing emotions comes naturally.

And it does. To a point.

As babies grow into toddlers and, from there, into children, they go through several general development stages for emotions. As they grow, they need help learning how to identify their emotions and how to express them in healthy and appropriate ways.

Children experience most of the same feelings as adults, including happiness, sadness, anger, fear, embarrassment, frustration, and more. Unfortunately, they often don’t have the words to express what they’re feeling.

So what do they do? They act out their emotions in physical, and often inappropriate, ways. Yes, it’s important to teach kindness, too, but there’s more needed.

Today, I want to go over why it’s helpful to help kids learn how to identify their emotions, some of the developmental stages to expect, and strategies that you can use to help your kids recognize their feelings and express them.

Benefit Of Helping Kids Identify Their Emotions (And Express Them)

As a parent, you’ve been there: your child is freaking out, losing their cool, and unable to control their big emotions.

Believe it or not, many parents don’t realize that they need to walk their kids through their feelings and how to respond to them.

But NOT taking the time or making the effort to do that can cause lifelong hardship for your children.

So let’s do it differently. By talking about emotions, labeling them, and walking through how to handle them.

WARNING: This will be challenging, especially with toddlers because of their undeveloped frontal cortexes. But starting when they’re little develops a foundation that you can build on as they get older.

The benefits of teaching your children about Identifying Emotions are huge. They include:

  • Helping them develop emotional intelligence.
  • Giving them lifelong skills that will help them tremendously.
  • Aiding them through school, work, friendships, and romantic relationships.
  • Developing self-regulation skills and longer attention spans.
  • Helping them to become less impulsive and more self-aware.

Before we dive into tools for identifying emotions, let’s quickly cover the emotional developmental stages that kids go through.

Stages Of Emotional Development 

Babies and children are very in tune with emotions, even if they don’t know how to identify them. Think about your baby…if you smile, they smile. If you cry, they cry.

As toddlers, they get so overwhelmed by their emotions that they come out sideways in the form of toddler tantrums.

Can tantrums be embarrassing for parents? Yes!

Can tantrums be frustrating to deal with as you try to reason with a little body that’s completely unreasonable? Yep!

But as toddlers, they aren’t emotionally developed enough yet to be able to do anything else. Fortunately, with a little guidance from you, they can learn to use more appropriate ways than tantrums to identify and express their emotions.

It’s important to know a few key developmental stages your child will go through regarding their emotions. 

Newborn To 1 Year 

  • Smiling 
  • Facial expressions
  • Expressing some emotions (anger, happiness, fear)
  • Self-soothing techniques 

Toddlers (1 and 2-year-olds)

  • Interactive play 
  • Strong emotions 
  • Pointing to things 
  • Start to develop empathy 
  • Gain confidence and pride  

Preschoolers (3 to 5-year-olds)

  • Become more social with others 
  • Developing imagination
  • More control over their impulses and emotions (including anger) 
  • Test their limits 

 Children (5-yar-olds and up)

  • Knows the majority of emotions
  • Better control of their emotions 
  • More control their anger 
  • Can talk through their emotions with more accuracy and control 
  • Look to you as an example 

This list is just a general outline to help you as you guide your children through identifying emotions.

7 Ways To Help Kids Identify Their Emotions

Now let’s take a look at a few tips to help you teach your child how to manage their emotions so they can learn emotional intelligence in a healthy way. 

Parents have a huge impact on helping their children understand and express their emotions in healthy ways. Use these strategies to help your child work on identifying their feelings and expressing them.

1. Read Books About Emotions

Babies and toddlers LOVE reading books with their parents! And books for kids these ages have come a LONG way.

Nowadays, there are so many options for books talking to kids about emotions. You can find books for every stage of emotional development as well as every emotion and ways to handle them. 

It is never too early (or late) to start! Enjoy some cuddle time as you read books together and learn something new. Here are some books I highly recommend to get you started:

  • I Am Stronger Than Anger: Picture Book About Anger Management
  • The Big Feelings Book for Children
  • The Color Monster: A Story About Emotions
  • I’m Just a Kid: A Social-Emotional Book about Self-Regulation
  • Me and My Feelings: A Kids’ Guide to Understanding and Expressing Themselves
  • My Body Sends a Signal: Helping Kids Recognize Emotions and Express Feelings
  • The Original Mood Flipbook for Kids

2. Show Your Emotions (Within Reason)

You are the best way to teach your child. They learn from examples and will look to you to see (and copy) everything you do. 

It’s important to be mindful of what you show them. Demonstrating no emotions teaches them that it’s not ok to have or show emotions (which will be harmful to them in life).

On the other hand, showing them that it’s ok to fly off the handle (and act like a toddler) when you have emotions isn’t a good model either.

This mindful behavior demonstration begins when they’re babies and continues throughout their childhood. 

3. Name Those Emotions

Children don’t know what feelings or emotions are if you don’t tell them. Talk about it all the time! Give emotions names and incorporate them naturally into things you talk about.

For example, you might say, “Your brother just hit you, and you look angry. You said you hate him.” Doing this helps to give your child a label for his emotions, and allows him to build a vocabulary for talking about feelings.

We often only think of teaching common emotions like happy, sad, mad, and scared. I think that is a GREAT WAY TO START. Simple is always best!

But as you build more vocabulary, begin adding in more words. Here are some to consider:

  • Brave
  • Cheerful
  • Bored
  • Confused
  • Surprised
  • Curious
  • Proud
  • Disappointed
  • Frustrated
  • Embarrassed
  • Silly
  • Excited
  • Uncomfortable
  • Worried
  • Shy
  • Ignored
  • Impatient
  • Safe
  • Relieved
  • Peaceful
  • Jealous
  • Overwhelmed
  • Lonely
  • Loving
  • Confused
  • Tense
  • Angry
  • Calm

Talk about your own emotions with your kids. Tell them when you are mad or upset. One mistake parents often make is to only show our children the good. but it is crucial to show them there are bad times, too! 

Identifying emotions includes the ones we think of as good AND the ones we think of as bad.

4. Give Them Chances To Identify Emotions

Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling at different times. Make it a point to do this at least once a day – and start when it’s obvious how they’re feeling. In fact, name each feeling as you see your child demonstrate it.

This will help them learn and understand these feelings in themselves. 

Consider giving kids lots of opportunities to identify feelings in themselves and others a form of practice. And practice makes permanent.

I find it helpful to ask my kids questions to make them think. Examples can include things like “You’re smiling! What are you feeling right now?” and “Ben just fell of his bike and has tears on his face. What do you think he’s feeling?”

5. Role Play 

Using situations that occur at home, when visiting family, during playdates, or at school, have your kiddo role-play how they would act in that situation.

This gives them a chance to identify feelings, practice new responses to those feelings, and become familiar with new behaviors so that they actually respond that way in similar real-life conflicts.

For example, pretend to be another student who acts like a bully and see how your kiddo would respond. After each role-play scenario, sit down and talk with your child about how they felt and any ways there are to improve.

6. Identifying Emotions Through Playing Emotional Charades

Write down several different emotions on slips of paper and put them in a bag or a bowl.

Have family members take turns pulling out a slip of paper with an emotion written on it and acting out that feeling (no speaking allowed!).

The rest of the family takes turns guessing which emotion is being acted out.

7. TV Shows And Movies

I know many parents want to limit screen time, and I’m 100% on board with that endeavor. There are ways to use screen time productively – talk about feelings as you watch stories! 

Many toddlers love Daniel Tiger and there are always talks about feelings in each episode. But the same idea works with almost any TV show or movie! 

8. Part Of Identifying Emotions Also Includes Expressing Emotions 

Kids will get upset. It’s part of life. They will want to yell, and scream, and hit and throw things.

Instead of putting the kibosh on it, allow them to express their feelings in safe and appropriate ways. 

If they tend to hit people or throw things, direct it in a way that’s ok. Suggest hitting their pillow, hitting their bean bag or their bed, or having a pillow fight.

The same thing could be done for yelling and screaming. Sometimes kids just need a release, so create a healthy one for them! 

9. Identifying Emotions Worksheet

If you want another hands-on idea (it’s the best way for kids to learn), grab this free printable download that kids can use to learn how to identify emotions!

Not only does this printable help kids identify emotions, but it also works on cutting skills and fine motor skills too!

With consistent practice using this emotions set, kids will become faster and more confident at identifying emotions.

Tools For Expressing Feelings

Sometimes children express their emotions in ways that are not acceptable. Your child might throw a tantrum or throw toys when they feel upset.

Here are some better ways you can teach your child to express their feelings:

  • Tell a grown-up
  • Take a deep breath
  • Ask for help
  • Solve problems with words
  • Say it, don’t do it (say “I am mad” instead of throwing toys)
  • Ask for a hug
  • Describe what you are feeling
  • Think of a different way to do it
  • Relax and try again
  • Walk away

Identifying Emotions: Final Thoughts

These are just a few simple ways to help your child learn how to identify and express their emotions in healthy ways.

Keep it simple, use pictures and hands-on activities, and work to relate everything back to your child’s life to help them understand.

Praise your child every time they talk about their feelings instead of just reacting. It is super important to communicate to your child exactly what they did right and how proud you are of them!

Support your child through the process of talking about feelings and practicing new strategies for expressing emotions appropriately. The more often your child practices, the faster your child will learn – and the more you praise their efforts, the faster it will “stick.”

Teaching emotions is so crucial to help your child. You can do it in so many different ways too. You’ve got this!

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The post Identifying Emotions: Teaching Kids How To Identify Emotions appeared first on Made In A Pinch.

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Identifying Emotions: Teaching Kids How To Identify Emotions


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