Teach Your Child to Name Feelings (with printables)
Stating feelings is an incredibly powerful way to help your child get calm. You can teach your child to name their feelings using printables.
I wouldn’t believe this so much if I hadn’t watched it with my own eyes:
“Waaahhh. Aaahhhh,” shrieked my preschooler.
“You feel sad. You really wanted to play with your sister and she wants to play alone,” I coached my child.
“Yeah.” The tears continued but it wasn’t quite so loud.
“Let’s look at these feelings over here,” I continued and handed him the printable emotions chart.
“I was sad. I was crying,” he said pointing to the faces on the chart. He immediately calmed.
“Okay. I play outside now,” he announced.
Meltdown over. Less than one minute from hysterical to calm.
How did this happen?
All because I named emotions for him and then he named them for himself.
You can experience this type of calm in your family, too. You can teach your child to name their feelings.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links; read more here.
Pin this for later!
Children Need Emotional Fluency
Let’s start at the main goal. We want our child to be able to get calm, right?
- Related: How to Deal with Temper Tantrums
We want them to manage their feelings. Children who can manage their emotions start by having emotional fluency.
Children who have emotional fluency do better in school and relationships with friends and family. They often have an easier time navigating the adult world.
Emotional fluency is much like fluency in a language. Children with emotional fluency can quickly and easily identify emotions in themselves and others.
Like having fluency in Spanish, your child doesn’t have to rack his brain to come up with words. Your child just says “casa” for home automatically.
This is the same goal for emotions. You want your child to be able to say, “I’m sad,” without having to rack his brain.
A lot of parents forget that learning to manage feelings is a skill like riding a bike or learning to hold a pencil. Your child will need a lot of practice.
So you need to teach your children develop emotional fluency.
Social Emotional Learning at Home Printable Pack
Using a printable emotion chart to name emotions
At this point, you’re probably thinking:
“So how do I help my child develop emotional fluency?”
First, you teach your child to name emotions. You can use a printable emotions chart to help with this.
Using a visual works. Our brain is a giant image catalog, and emotions and images are stored in the same part of the brain.
Pictures are so much easier for the brain to process than spoken words. That’s the why behind this printables blog!
Second, when you have the printable emotions chart, it helps you stay accountable as a parent. Posting a chart gives you the visual reminder you need to practice this parenting skill.
Third, when an emotion is presented as a picture, it makes it more concrete and tangible for a child. They are able to connect the feeling in their body with a word.
Prior to any meltdowns or big feelings, use the emotions chart with your child. Play a game like emotions matching. Draw pictures of faces to help your child name the feeling.
Then, hang onto the chart – you’re going to revisit it.
Name it to Tame it
By now, your child has knowledge about feelings and can identify them in pictures.
The next step is to teach your child name feelings in themselves. The most natural way to teach emotions is to “name it to tame it.”
This catchy phrase is actually evidence-based and from the book The Whole Brain Child. When your child experiences an emotion, you name it for them.
“You put your dishes in the sink. You feel proud.”
“Your lego creation broke. You feel sad.”
“It’s raining today and we can’t go on a bike ride. You are disappointed.”
Giving our children the words about their emotions helps them make sense of their experience. It helps connect their emotional brain with the thinking part of the brain as the authors detail in The Whole Brain Child.
When children can connect our words with a picture on a chart – the brain makes connections and the magic happens.
Why does this work?
Naming it makes emotions feel more normal. Children can understand – “Oh, what I’m experiencing is actually a thing with a name. I can name it like a cat or a truck or a banana. I can a see a picture of it”
Similarly, in the book the authors Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson explain that parents’ tendency is to “Dismiss and Deny” with “You’re okay” or “Stop crying.”
This doesn’t help children make sense of what they are feeling.
Remember: we have to teach emotional skills just like washing hands or tying shoes. We can practice this skill and make emotions concrete by giving them a name.
Social Emotional Learning at Home Printable Pack
Naming emotions validates children
Another important reason to name emotions for children is to validate them. Emotional fluency can only happen when children feel like they can experience all the emotions.
It is normal to experience the difficult emotions like anger, sadness, frustration, loneliness, and shame.
It’s also normal for those difficult emotions to feeling challenging for parents to observe.
How parents choose to react will set the stage for how children will respond to those feelings:
- Parent A says, “You are feeling anxious about going to school. This is tough. I used to feel worried when I was little, too.”
- Parent B says, “Stop whining. You worry too much. I don’t have time for this.”
- Parent C says, “Here’s exactly what you want right now. I’m going to fix everything.”
Humans are wired to want connection. When your child is experiencing a big feeling, they need to feel validated by you to learn how to not be overwhelmed by it.
In prior generations, parents thought children were being manipulative when they had big feelings and they’d say things like Parent B.
Neurologically that’s highly unlikely. People have to access a different part of the brain to use manipulative behaviors; that’s hard to do mid-meltdown.
So if your tendency is to think, “My child just wants to get his way,” try this:
- Name the emotion for your child.
- Give them to words to explain their feeling.
- Empathize that it feels tough.
This works 100% better than shame. And you will teach emotional fluency at the same time.
If tend to respond like Parent C, we can work on that, too, when we teach emotional fluency. Through naming emotions, you will teach them they are capable of experiencing and surviving big emotions without parent intervention.
A note: you might need to re-parent yourself through this, too. As you see how you respond to your child and deny their experience, you’ll need to examine and do the work to move past this tendency. It’s not your fault if you feel triggered by your child’s difficult to experience emotions.
Naming feelings leads to emotional regulation
Like mentioned above, the real goal is that your child will learn to calm himself.
This is part of emotional regulation. It is when people can use strategies to keep their emotions from completely overwhelming them.
Your child can control the feelings instead of letting the emotions control them.
Does this mean feelings and emotions are bad? NO!
It means that your child can respond to their emotions in productive rather than maladaptive way.
Back to the story about my preschool son. He became emotional regulated when:
- I named his emotion.
- I validated him.
- I show him the printable emotions chart.
- He connected to the visual.
- The visual also redirected his attention.
- He named his own feeling.
He moved from meltdown to mastery in less than minute (when meltdowns used to escalate!).
Social-Emotional Learning at Home
You can help your child learn to name their feelings, develop emotional fluency and then emotional regulation. All the tools you need are inside the Social-Emotional Learning at Home Printable Pack.
These tools will help you teach your child to:
- Develop emotional fluency
- Develop empathy
- Respond with compassion
- Identify their emotional dysregulation
- Learn to regulate their emotions
Recapping Teach Your Child to Name Feelings
Here’s the summary for all you busy parents:
- Children who can manage their emotions start by having emotional fluency.
- Emotional fluency is effortlessly naming emotions.
- A printable emotions chart is powerful tool for naming and normalizing emotions.
- The brain recalls images and emotions in the same part which is why visuals are so important.
- As discussed in The Whole Brain Child, parents need to Name it to Tame it with emotions.
- Naming emotions validates children.
- Naming feelings can lead to emotional regulation (or the ability to express emotions rather than becoming overwhelmed.
You can teach your child to name their feelings. In the process, they will develop emotional fluency, feel validated, and learn that identifying emotions is the first step to emotional regulation.