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Teaching Your Child to Identify and Name Their Feelings

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Emotions play a vital role in your child’s life, influencing their behaviors and overall well-being. However, many children struggle to accurately identify and name their feelings, leading to emotional confusion and difficulties in effectively managing their emotions.

Identifying and naming feelings is a skill that parents can teach. Both parents and children can benefit from learning and practicing this skill. Identifying and naming feelings is crucial for maintaining healthy relationships, managing stress, overcoming challenges, and promoting mental health.

This I Want to Know More aims to explore why you should teach your child to identify and name feelings, its importance, and provide examples of how you can teach this skill, while growing your own ability as well.

Why Should I Teach My Child to Identify and Name Feelings?

  • Improved Mental Health
    • Developing emotional self-awareness can have a positive impact on your child’s mental health. When they can accurately identify and name their feelings, they can address underlying issues and seek appropriate support or interventions. They can work to develop healthy calm down strategies to manage their emotions.This self-awareness can help reduce anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges.
  • Enhanced Relationship Building
    • Emotional self-awareness fosters stronger and healthier relationships. By understanding their emotions, children can effectively communicate their needs and boundaries, which promotes more fulfilling connections. Parents who understand their emotions are able to model healthy calm down strategies and emotional regulation in order to intentionally and respectfully communicate with their child. Additionally, recognizing and empathizing with the emotions of others becomes easier when children have a deeper understanding of their own emotions.
  • Better Decision Making
    • Identifying and naming emotions improves decision-making skills. By acknowledging and naming their feelings and thinking about the self-talk that led to their feelings, children can assess how their feelings may be influencing their choices and behaviors. This awareness allows them to make more rational and well-informed decisions, rather than being driven solely by their emotions.

Why is it Important For a Child to Identify and Name Feelings?

  • Clarity and Understanding
    • Identifying and naming their feelings allows children to gain clarity and understanding about how they feel. Often, emotions can be complex and intertwined, making it challenging to figure out what they are truly experiencing. By giving their emotions a name, they bring them into conscious awareness, making them more manageable and understandable.
  • Enhanced Communication
    • Naming their emotions enables effective communication with others. When children can accurately express how they feel, they increase the likelihood of being understood and heard. It also helps prevent misunderstandings and conflicts that may arise from miscommunication. For example, instead of saying, “I’m upset,” teach them to specify the emotion as “I’m feeling disappointed” to provide more clarity.
  • Self-Reflection and Self-Regulation
    • Identifying and naming emotions encourages self-reflection and self-regulation. By recognizing and understanding their emotional states, children become better equipped to manage them. When they can identify the root causes of their emotions, they can respond to them in healthier and more constructive ways. This practice empowers children to make conscious choices rather than being controlled by their emotions.

How do I Teach My Child to Identify and Name Feelings?

  • Start with yourself
    • It’s important to remember that not all parents had the opportunity to learn the skill of identifying and naming feelings themselves. In previous generations, there was less emphasis on understanding our emotions and more focus on other aspects of development. It’s only in recent years that we have started to understand the importance of social and emotional skill development and its impact on overall well-being. Understanding how to identify and name our feelings takes practice, and as parents, we can all benefit from enhancing our skills in this area.

      Here’s how you can do it.
      • Tune in
        • Imagine experiencing frustration at work. Instead of merely labeling the feeling as anger, take a moment to identify the specific emotions contributing to it. “Is this a frustrated feeling, or is this a feeling of anger – or maybe I’m stressed?
      • Describe it
        • How would I rate this feeling on a scale of 1-10?
        • Does this feeling give me a physical reaction? Is it a sick feeling, like having an upset stomach?
        • Does it remind me of anything? Is it similar to how I feel when I’ve lost my keys?

      Remember, this is a journey of growth, and it’s never too late to start. Be kind to yourself as you navigate this process and take it one step at a time. Your efforts to develop your emotional awareness will not only benefit your child but also contribute to your own well-being.

  • Model emotional expression
    • Children learn by observing their parents and caregivers. Demonstrate healthy emotional expression by labeling and discussing your own feelings in everyday situations in front of your child. For example, say, “I feel frustrated when I can’t find my keys,” or “I’m so happy to see you!” Practice expressing genuine emotions. It is easy to get in the habit of saying, “I’m fine,” rather than expressing how you truly feel.
  • Use age-appropriate resources
    • Utilize books, picture cards, or apps that specifically focus on emotions. These resources often provide visual cues or stories that help children identify different emotions and associate them with specific situations.
  • Provide a feelings vocabulary
    • Teach children a range of emotion words beyond the basic “happy” and “sad.” Introduce words like excited, frustrated, surprised, and anxious. You can play games where you act out emotions or ask the child to identify the emotion on someone’s face.
  • Encourage reflection and conversation
    • Engage in conversations with your child about their feelings and experiences. Ask open-ended questions like, “How did that make you feel?” or “What emotions do you think you’re experiencing right now?” This encourages them to reflect on their emotions and practice articulating them.
  • Use a feelings chart
    • The Feelings Chart shows different emotions and facial expressions. Hang it in a prominent place at home or in your child’s room. This can serve as a reference point for your child to identify and communicate their emotions.
  • Validate and normalize emotions
    • Let your child know that all emotions are valid and that it’s normal to experience a wide range of feelings. Help them understand that it’s okay to feel sad, angry, or afraid, and provide a safe space for them to express their emotions without judgment.

Teaching your child to identify and name their feelings is an ongoing process that requires modeling, patience, and repetition. Encourage your child to practice identifying and naming their feelings regularly and reinforce their efforts with positive reinforcement and support.


Building an emotional vocabulary and using descriptive language contribute to clearer communication and enhanced social and emotional skills. The benefits extend beyond personal growth and positively impact many aspects of life. Ultimately, by honing the skill of identifying and naming feelings, your child will empower themselves to navigate the complexities of their emotional landscapes and foster healthier relationships with themselves and others.

Recommended Citation: Center for Health and Safety Culture. (2023). Teaching Your Child to Identify and Name Their Feelings. Retrieved from https://parentingmontana.org.
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