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Helping young children understand emotions

Lelia Ingram
Lelia Ingram - November 10, 2018

We know how important it is to help children develop their emotional skills from the beginning, so in our themed area this month we’re exploring Emotions, and helping your little one recognise and understand them.

Much like adults, young children experience a full range of emotions from sadness to fear to happiness to excitement and frustration – sometimes ALL in one morning!! Some emotions are BIG, some small and some in between.

Often kids at this age do not have the words to talk about how they are feeling as they are still developing their expressive language skills and this can lead to unwelcome outbursts and tantrums. Yes…we’ve all been there!!

A key way of helping kids grow their emotional intelligence is to broaden their knowledge and understanding of emotion words. According to studies by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, children who have a wide range of ‘feeling’ words improve their academic performance as well as their social behavior. So talking about feelings and naming them with your kids is fundamental to their emotional well-being.

Some tips for helping your child understand and express their emotions

Play with facial expressions

Take turns choosing a ‘feeling word’ and then expressing it through exaggerated facial expressions and body language. Let them look in the mirror or take a picture on your phone so they can see what they look like. Start with simple words like ‘happy’ and ‘grumpy’ then introduce more complex words such as ‘surprised’ and ‘frustrated’.

Name emotions

Teach feelings words by giving the feelings names and then encouraging your child to talk about how they are feeling. By giving your child a label for their emotions, you enable them to develop a vocabulary for talking about feelings. For example, ‘I can see you are sad because your favourite toy is broken.’

Identify feelings in others

It is often tricky for young kids to understand how others might feel so it’s good practice to point out a situation and ask your child to reflect on what someone else may be feeling: ‘Oliver bumped his head on the slide. How do you think Oliver feels?’
Empathy is a core skill which needs and lots of practice.

Different ways to respond

Teach your child some different ways they can respond to specific feelings, conflicts, or problems. Some suggestions are: Ask a grown-up for help, Say it, don’t do it (say ‘I feel angry’ instead of throwing toys), Take a deep breath and count 1,2, 3, Walk away,
Ask for a hug or Find a quiet space to calm down. Your child might be able to come up with their own positive ways to deal with feelings.

Use children’s books to talk about feelings

There are so many amazing picture books out there and they make a great hands-on resource for delving into emotions. When reading with your little one you can use the pictures to talk about how the character might be feeling. Ask your child, ‘How do you think the character feels? How do you know? Have you ever felt that way? What do you do when you feel that way?’

How Hopster can help

Our carefully chosen shows, books and games develop kids social and emotional skills in lots of positive ways. I’ve chosen a few of my favourites which I think really help kids explore the theme of ‘feelings’.

Shows

Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom: These two friends have lots of exciting adventures together and as they play they often feel BIG emotions especially when things go wrong.

Humf: Humf is a fun, furry character who loves his family and friends. The shows explore themes like being scared, getting lost and many more stories that link nicely to talking about emotions.

Punky: Punky is a happy, fun kid who just happens to have down-syndrome. She loves dancing, music and hugs. This is a great show for exploring the ups and downs of emotions in daily life.

Books

Check out our Emotions StoryBots Books which explore feelings like Silly, Happy and Grumpy. These cute books will help children link feelings to actual things and events that make them feel a certain way.

Games

Our SHARE game helps children learn how to interact positively and appropriately with others. It is a great starting point for introducing the skills of sharing and turn-taking to little ones as well as encouraging children to link facial expressions and emotions.

Key learning skills:
✅ Understand how they and others show feelings
✅ Can play co-operatively, taking turns with others
✅ Show sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings

Understanding emotions is a critical part of children’s overall development; we hope you have fun exploring feelings with your child and let us know if you tried any of our top-tips or used Hopster to help your little ones understand their feelings better.

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