Why is it important to teach children to label their feelings?

September, 2018

Happy and sad tend to be the primary feeling labels that are taught to children.  This encourages a black and white type of thinking, good and bad, right and wrong.  Assisting our children in understanding the full spectrum of human feelings is vital in ensuring that they grow into emotionally astute young adults.  With this early understanding it’s far more likely that children’s emotional awareness will continue to develop into their adulthood.

Helping children put their feelings into words can support them in navigating strong, emotional experiences. Once our children have mastered the labelling basics, we can move on to a bigger variety of emotionally expressive words. We can increase our child’s understanding of emotions through playing a labelling game and adding its name to the “feelings file”.  It’s important to assure your child that all emotions are natural and welcome to ensure that they don’t feel shame in expressing anger, frustration and sadness.

To start the game, you could ask your child where they feel the emotion and what does it look like? They could give it a name and a colour. Helping to bring the feeling to life will allow your child to accept and release it with ease.  Scientists have discovered that labelling emotions reduced the response of the amygdala and other limbic regions (known as the emotional seat of the brain) to negative emotional images.

Here’s what it means to us:

The Brain’s Braking System
When we are able to label an emotion it acts as a “braking” system for the brain. It slows down the response of the limbic system of the brain. How incredible that we can help children start “putting on the brakes” on emotional reactions by helping them learn to label feelings. Recognising feelings is one of the first parts of social-emotional literacy, and will make a profoundly positive impact on your child’s physical and emotional wellbeing.
What’s next?
Emotional labelling is just the first step. Once the feeling is identified, we need to help children develop coping skills to manage the feeling.  Help your child learn that even the big emotions which may seem a little scary are safe to share.  Encourage the notion that “feelings are friends” coming to say hello and that it’d be lovely if we call them by their names as quickly as possible, so that they feel welcome.  There are many useful resources to inspire fun activities relating to teaching feelings and adults can learn a lot too! Allowing your child to see you express and label emotions gives them full permission to do the same, and encourages them to know that it’s completely natural.  You may like to create an emotions wheel with your child or put together an emotions toolkit.  We love the wonderful ‘create-a-face’ craft activity where you can ask your child to explain how the face is feeling.  Last but not least, feelings charades is a great way to have fun and reinforces the idea that feelings are friendly visitors who will come and go.
Have fun exploring feelings and their reasons with your children.  We’d love to hear your feedback over on our Great British Nannies Facebook page!
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