In the second blog post, I clarified how curiosity can help parents better understand the causes of their children’s tough behaviors. Once parents become more curious about their children's minds, they will need to put words to their children's experiences. This is where emotional labeling becomes important. Emotional labeling is simply naming, with the child, what the parent believes their child is feeling in the moment. Additionally, children are not born with the ability or knowledge of how to label their emotions. This is why parents are vital; they have the most influence to help build their children's skill in emotional labeling. Without parents’ and other caregivers’ guidance, children would not know how to do this on their own.
Emotional labeling is crucial because emotion is the language of relationship. For children to relate to themselves and others, they need to know how to recognize their emotional experiences by labeling how they are feeling.1 As children hear more emotional labeling from their parents about their emotional experiences, they learn more about how to express their feelings in words, become more successful in building relationships, develop strong self-esteem, and calm themselves down more easily. If children do not learn to recognize these emotions, their emotional development can become stunted, which can lead to more tough behaviors.
It is easy to label emotional experiences by remembing the five basic emotions: anger, sadness, fear, shame, and joy.2 These five basics emotions are foundational to every child's experience. Children experience these emotions every day to some degree or another. Thus, it is imperative for parents to begin to put words to their children's experiences whenever possible.
Practically, this means parents using statements with the five basic emotions in them. Here are some examples:
"Oh, wow. I see how excited you are about going swimming!"
"I know you’re sad because we have to leave now to go home."
"It seems like you’re angry because your brother took your favorite toy without asking."
"Oh, I bet it was embarrassing when your teacher called on you."
"It must have been scary to be dropped off at school today by yourself."
As emotional labeling becomes increasingly routine in parents’ conversations with their children, their children will become more emotionally developed, which will give them greater potential for healthy lives in the future.
In summing up this blog series, in my fist post, I explained that all behavior happens for a reason. In my second post, I showed that being curious helps parents more easily understand reasons for tough behavior. In this closing post of the series, I showed that when parents label the emotional experiences of their children, they help create healthy relational development in their children. Hopefully, knowing more about the ideas presented in this series can help you more clearly organize the wonderful and challenging journey of parenting.
1.Goldman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: why it can matter more than iq. Bantam Books
2.Ekman, P. (1999). "Basic emotions," in Dalgleish, T; Power, M, Handbook of Cognition and Emotions (PDF), Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Son