Young children experience many of the same emotions that adults do, but often don’t have the vocabulary available to talk about how they are feeling. You’ve probably been concerned or confused when your child seems emotional, but you don’t know why. He might yell, throw toys or seem quieter than usual, and you’re left feeling unsure how to help.
Once children begin to understand their own emotions, they’re better able to express themselves appropriately and tune into the emotional cues of others.
Don’t be discouraged if your child doesn’t vocalize his emotions overnight. Remember that it takes time and practice. We’ve pulled together some of our favorite tips below to help increase your child’s emotional IQ.
1. Play a mirror game
Sit in front of a mirror with your child and ask him to portray a specific emotion. If he struggles, make the facial expression yourself and encourage him to mimic you. Then, describe a situation that may elicit that emotion. For instance, you could say, “Spending time with you makes me very happy.” Then ask, “What makes you happy?”
2. Modify “If You’re Happy and You Know it”
Change the lyrics of the popular nursery rhyme to help your child understand new emotion vocabulary words. You could say, “If you’re sad and you know it, say boo hoo,” or “If you’re tired and you know it, make a yawn.”
3. Label emotions as you see them expressed
You might be inclined to point out common emotions like happy, sad or mad, but don’t forget to identify more complex emotions, such as proud, brave, curious, overwhelmed and confused. The more often your child hears this new vocabulary, the more likely he’ll use it in the future.
4. Teach by example
Although it may be difficult at times, do your best to express your own emotions, such as frustration and anger, in a positive way. When your child is struggling, you can remind him of your actions, and offer suggestions for ways he too can act appropriately. For instance, you might say, “Remember when mommy was frustrated last night? I went for a walk to calm myself down. Next time that you’re frustrated, you could ask for help or take a few deep breaths.”
5. Narrate books with emotion-rich speech
There are many books aimed at helping preschoolers understand and name emotions, such as My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss, Other Moods that Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis, and The Way I Feel by Janan Cain. As you’re reading, point out the emotions from the story.