Today’s world is fraught with daily concerns that invade day-to-day discussions at home, work, and school. As we listen, our bodies tell us how we feel about these concerns. We may feel a sinking sensation in our stomachs, a tightening in our chest, or even a headache developing. As adults, we share how the news is stressing us out or how excited we are to meet the new addition to the family. Managing our emotions is a skill that many of us take for granted as something we just know how to do. But in actuality, managing our emotions effectively requires the development of many smaller skills, all of which need to be taught to children in some way. Children are learning how to navigate their emotions well into adolescence and beyond.
As the world has decreased our contact with people due to the risks of Covid-19 transmission, we have simultaneously increased the use of technology. This combination may make our children vulnerable to difficulties developing the subskills needed to manage our emotions effectively. Even before the pandemic, early use of technology by young children had already been found to impact social-emotional development and the emergence of expressive language in some children.
Increasing risk factors elevate the need for direct instruction in understanding and expressing emotions. However, to understand the emotions of another (e.g., take the perspective of another), we first must learn to recognize and name emotions within ourselves. And this is where you, as your child’s parent and first teacher, come in. As a parent, you know how important it is to talk with your child about everything. By helping your child navigate the emotional challenges of virtual, hybrid, and in-person instruction (all while wearing a mask), you are targeting the growth of their emotional vocabulary, knowledge, and expression. As a speech-language pathologist, I recommend a few simple ideas that can help your child learn about their reaction to emotions and to recognize emotions in others.
Talk about how emotions feel in your body and then label the emotion. When you are with your child, notice how you feel and describe it. “It’s almost time for the movie to start. My stomach feels like it has butterflies.” “I stubbed my toe. My toe hurts, and my body is tense.” Describing how our bodies react when we feel an emotion can seem awkward at first, so don’t give up! After describing the emotion you feel in your body, label it with an emotion word. “I feel excited.” “I’m so upset.”
Through pictures or a television show, describe how people look and sound, and then label the emotion. Just as previously stated, drawing your attention to how others look and sound will help your child observe these characteristics in others. For example, “His eyebrows are pointed down, and his chest is puffed up. He looks angry.”
Role-play how emotions look and sound. Practicing how an emotion might feel helps children develop a deeper understanding of emotion words and characteristics.
Remember to go beyond the basics of happy, sad, and mad. Children need to learn many words to understand their own emotions and the emotions of others. ◙
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About Melanie Upright
Melanie Upright has more than twenty years of experience in education. She is the author of More Time to Lead; The Principal’s Guide to Empowered Teachers, Successful Students and Satisfied Parents and creator of Four Perspectives: A Framework for Helping Struggling Learners. She currently serves as a coordinator in special education for the Charles County Public Schools.
Melanie incorporates systems thinking and collaborative practice to solve complex problems of challenging students. With her unique background as a speech-language pathologist, she has led projects that reduce the achievement gap in elementary mathematics, bring classroom management support to new teachers, and address access and equity problems in areas such as early reading development and communicative competency.
She serves as the co-chair of the Maryland State Steering Committee for SLPs. She co-teaches Advanced Instructional Strategies through Johns Hopkins University. She has a Master of Science degree from Towson University in Speech-Language Pathology. Melanie believes in the potential of all students and the magic of the classroom.