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Recognizing and labeling feelings

Helping your child learn to understand and express their emotions effectively is a long-term process. Let’s face it, some adults still struggle with it! 

Emotions are tricky things: we have to have an awareness of how our body feels, be able to label that feeling with an emotion word, appropriately communicate that emotion to someone, and then find ways to cope with that emotion. This is why explicit teaching of emotions is so important. The more we practice with our kids, the more easily they will be able to recognize their feelings and share them with us so we can help. 

Here are our top five emotion teaching tips:

Model. The way we express ourselves influences how a child expresses themselves. It is important to teach a child how to express their emotions by modeling these skills yourself. Children will often look at adults to see how they feel, express, and manage their emotions throughout different scenarios. While it may feel silly, try to narrate and label your emotions as they come up, and why you are feeling that way. This gives your child the emotional language, as well as normalizes that everyone has these feelings.

Brain-body connection. Being able to connect a body sensation to an emotion is quite complicated, and even adults are still working on recognizing how their body feels and what that means. Use teaching moments after big emotions happen to talk about how their body felt. “When I feel nervous about trying something new sometimes my stomach hurts. How does your body feel?” “You looked like you felt angry, where did you feel that in your body?” The more you strengthen this brain-body connection, the more emotional awareness your child will have. 

Daily rituals. Make it part of your daily routine to check in with your child. Some natural times to connect can be first thing in the morning while getting ready, or at the end of the day as a bedtime ritual. We love to do this at dinner, when the whole family is together. Go around the table and share the high and low of your day. Then you can dive into the emotions, problem solving, or discuss how they could deal with that situation next time.  

Teach through books, movies and games. Children learn best through play, so next time the family is watching a movie, try discussing how a character is feeling, or figuring out why a superhero feels the way he does. There are a variety of games and books that do a wonderful job at incorporating emotions. Some of our favorite books are Color Monster, The Way I Feel, and Even Superheroes Have Bad Days. Teaching through books and games can feel more natural and incorporates a fun learning element where adults and children can discuss emotions and the perspective of others. 

Be accepting. All feelings play a vital role in a child’s emotional development. Although we may be quick to shut down a sad or angry child, talking about and accepting all feelings shows a child that it is safe to share their emotions, no matter how they feel. Use those moments where a child is feeling jealous, embarrassed, or sad to explore the situation and help them understand their feelings. Having these conversations early in life gives room for further conversations in the future, especially as emotions get more complex. 

The more we can discuss and label emotions regularly throughout the day, the more successful we will be at raising children who are kind and empathetic beings. 

Ashlee and Lisa are child psychologists who created KidsConnect Psychology as a place for children and families to access tools, supports, and therapy. Check out the website,, for digital downloads, parenting tool kits, information about parent counselling, school consultations, daycare consultations, and more! Follow on Facebook and Instagram.


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