How do kids know what they’re feeling?
You probably don’t remember how you learned to identify your feelings, but the important part is that you learned. Now it’s time to teach your kids to recognize their emotions accurately and manage them effectively so they can build positive relationships with others.
While watching a movie one day, Katie turns to her mom with surprise and says, “Mommy, my eyes are wet!” Her mom smiles and replies, “It looks like you have tears in your eyes. That part of the movie was really sad. Sometimes when people feel sad, they cry. Sometimes we even cry when we are happy!”
What’s going on
Katie is practicing an important skill: she’s recognizing her emotions. Recognizing emotions is the ability to use cues from our facial expressions, our body (physiology), and from the sound of our voice to identify how someone is feeling. Think about all of the different cues you might notice when you have different feelings:
Facial expressions: eyes open wide or narrow, looking up or looking down, eyebrows raised or pulled together, mouth open or closed, smiling or frowning
Physiology: heart rate (fast or slow), breathing, tension (tight or relaxed shoulders), energy level
Tone of voice: loud or soft, stern or gentle
How to help your child
Here are a few ideas to try at home to support your child’s ability to recognize emotions.
With infants and toddlers:
Susan E. Rivers, Ph.D.
Susan E. Rivers, Ph.D. is a social psychologist and expert on emotional intelligence and social and emotional learning. She was a member of the Yale University Department of Psychology’s research faculty, the founding deputy director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, as well as a co-developer of the RULER framework for teaching emotional intelligence in preschool through middle school classrooms. Dr. Rivers is currently the Executive Director at iThrive, a non-profit that helps teens develop social and emotional skills, and positive psychology habits through the use of digital games.
Shauna Tominey, Ph.D.
Shauna Tominey, Ph.D., is an experienced early childhood and parenting educator with a great deal of experience in research programs promoting social and emotional skills for both children and adults. She also co-authored the book Stop, Think, Act: Integrating Self-Regulation in the Early Childhood Classroom. Dr. Tominey is taking on a new role as an Assistant Professor of Practice and Parenting Education Specialist at Oregon State University.