Verbalizing Emotions



Photo courtesy of hyperorbit.


During the preschool years, children are bombarded with very strong emotions, yet their developing language skills often limit their capacity to express those feelings.  In such situations, it’s much easier to act than to speak.  What results are the tantrums, the hitting, the biting, and other behaviors, which too frequently typify the preschool years. As adults, we can help reduce these undesirable behaviors by giving children the tools to express their emotions verbally.  Here are a few examples:


·         Label emotions.  Label your child’s, your own, and those you come across in stories.   Go beyond “mad” and use more descriptive words, such as frustrated or disappointed.  This gives your child the vocabulary to express emotion verbally.  Additionally, research has shown that the very act of labeling (and thereby validating) a child’s emotions provides comfort. 

·          “I’m so frustrated with this computer right now.” 

·          “I’m sorry you’re feeling so disappointed about not getting that today.” 

·          “How do you think the three little pigs felt when they heard the wolf at their door?” 


·         Help them verbalize their needs. Preschoolers commonly act out when a need or desire has been frustrated.  Frustrated needs could be the need to be independent on a new skill, the need for an object that they can’t obtain or that has been taken away, or the basic needs such as sleep and food.  

·         “You look like you’re upset about something.  Tell me about it.”  “What do you think we could do about it?” 

·         “I can help you when you can use words to tell me what you need.” 

·         “I can understand you when you use a calm, polite voice.  Then I can know how to help you.” 



·         Guide them through social conflicts.  When children fight over toys or get upset about something that was said or done, we can verbally coach them through those situations. 

·          “How do you think it made her feel when you ___?”  

·         “How did it make you feel when he ____?”   “Maybe he didn’t even know that would make you sad.  Can you tell him that and ask him nicely not to do it again” 

·         “Instead of taking the doll, you could ask her if you can use it when she’s done.” 

·         “What would be a polite way to ask him to move?”


Helping children to verbalize their emotions doesn’t always give immediate end to an emotional crisis, but it does build the foundation for children to find more peaceful ways to address their frustration in the future.  When adults validate children’s emotions and provide them with an open dialogue, it not only helps children to develop that ability to verbalize their feelings themselves, but also shows them empathy and assures them that they are understood and loved.  That comfort alone can go a long way in soothing the occasional storms of the preschool years!


For more on Positive Guidance, click here!


See also: Tools for Tantrums, Pro-Social Development, Language & Literacy




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4 responses to “Verbalizing Emotions

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