Teaching emotional vocabulary
Learning to manage emotions is vitally important for children and they learn by following the example set by adults in their lives

‘Did you know we have eight primary in-built emotions?

  • Joy (happiness)
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Fear (scared)
  • Suprise
  • Disgust
  • Interest
  • Shame

Our secondary emotions are linked to these and reflect an emotional reaction to specific feelings, they are learned from experiences.

For example – when a child is punished because they have a ‘meltdown’ they likely to be anxious the next time they start to feel angry.

How we react to children’s emotions is an important aspect of the development of their emotional intelligence 

So whats the difference between emotions and feelings? 

 Interoceptive awareness – an essential skill, but do you know what it is?

This is the ability to identify, access, understand and respond appropriately to the patterns of internal signals.

But if you don’t know what you are feeling in the first place emotional dysregulation can be the result – an emotional response that is out of proportion to the stimulus and not an effective way to stay self regulated .

We’ve all been told to ‘calm down’ when feeling highly emotional – how often does this actually help? It usually doesn’t as we are in a state of emotional trauma  and we’re unable to accurately identify what we’re feeling and why.

Emotional invalidation can also make it difficult to learn how to manage emotion: ” you are being silly”

Emotional regulation requires effective communication between body, thoughts and feelings.



How can we help?

There are plenty of universal strategies that can make a real difference:-

  • have a clear, and predictable routine in your setting, give warnings of any changes
  • make it clear when each task starts and prewarn before the task comes to an end
  • make transitions clear- support them with visuals
  • have some simple class rules and reinforce often including the use of visuals
  • provide a quiet, safe space outside the main classroom area
  • be predictable and reponsive, make sure the children see you as a source of help


How to help in Early Years?

It may feel like teaching emotions is harder with younger children, but the same universal principles apply.

In addition:- 

  • younger children will need to be taught explicitly about emotions both in themselves and in others. “What does it feel like to be sad?” “How do I know if my friend is sad? “
  • talk about emotions, label them- make it a normal part of everyday conversation and vocabulary
  • talk about strong emotions when the child is calm and regulated 

Here are some resources you can use to help

Written by Jo Williams

Jo has worked with children with SLCN for more than 30 years. She worked as a senior manager in the NHS and has worked as a consultant for NHS Trusts. She is a Local Government Association Early Years Peer Reviewer.

November 23, 2022

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