Feelings can be complicated, and especially as a child, they can be difficult to navigate and express. It’s therefore important to help children find the words they need to vocalize their feelings.
When we talk about expressing feelings, a few clarifications are needed. Feelings and emotions are not the same. It’s tempting to use the words interchangeably, but it isn’t quite accurate to do so.
According to an article from Wake Forest University, feelings result from many different sensations, such as hunger or weariness. Feelings can come from emotions as well. Feelings are always conscious experiences, even if sometimes it’s unclear what’s causing them. (Wake)
Emotions are more complicated and unconscious. They are responses to layered experiences. According to the book, Discovering Psychology, they include “a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioral or expressive response.” (Very Well)
The first major step in discovering how to express your feelings in words is distinguishing whether the sensations are feelings or emotions.
How To Express Your Feelings in Words
Words to Describe Emotions and Feelings
In general, expressing emotions takes fewer words. At the same time, it requires courage. Children might find it difficult to voice the emotions they’re experiencing.
Help your child or students with vocabulary that enables communication of emotions.
The six basic emotions are:
After a child identifies one of these emotions, then it becomes easier to start talking about feelings.
Feelings can come from emotions. For example:
- Envy can be a feeling that comes from anger.
- People feel panic as a result of fear.
- Relief can be a feeling proceeding from joy.
- Sometimes people feel longing because of the emotion of love.
- Humiliation can be a feeling that comes from sadness.
- Silliness can come from surprise.
Expressing Emotions Examples
Feelings and emotions can be complex. Panic might come from fear, but then it might lead to anger. Feelings of shame can sometimes stem from a moment that started as joyful.
Once an emotion or feeling has been identified, it’s easier to choose appropriate coping mechanisms.
Among the most effective tools for expressing feelings in healthy ways is the, “I feel…When people…I need…Will you please…” formation. (SoulShoppe)
This formation may need to be broken down, especially for younger children.
Start with just the “I feel…” part.
- I feel frustrated.
- I feel worried.
- I feel nervous.
After children get used to identifying their feelings and emotions, start asking them to identify the cause of their feelings. Use the formation, “I feel…when people…”
- I feel frustrated when people talk about how I pronounce words.
- I feel worried when people remind me I have a math quiz.
- I feel nervous when people talk about how I wear glasses.
Once they start getting the hang of associating their feelings with things happening in their lives, start asking them to begin looking for the reason those events matter. Use the “I feel…when people…I need…” formation.
- I feel frustrated when people talk about how I pronounce words. I need to feel safe when I talk.
- I feel worried when people remind me I have a math quiz. I need to learn my math problems.
- I feel nervous when people talk about how I wear my glasses. I need to feel safe wearing my glasses.
The point of this formation is to give children more tools to communicate what’s going on inside them.
The last step is giving children the tools to ask for what they need. For example…
- I feel frustrated when people talk about how I pronounce words. I need to feel safe when I talk. Will you please stop pointing out how I pronounce words?
- I feel worried when people remind me I have a math quiz. I need to learn my math problems. Will you please help me study?
- I feel nervous when people talk about how I wear my glasses. I need to feel safe wearing my glasses. Will you please stop talking about my glasses?
Why a Child has Difficulty Expressing Emotions
The reason a child might have trouble expressing emotions and feelings is simply that they’ve experienced fewer things than an adult, and some feelings are new. As a result, they’ve had fewer opportunities to learn the terminology necessary to express their emotions and feelings. According to Vanderbilt University, “Children get angry, sad, frustrated, nervous, happy, or embarrassed, but they often do not have the words to talk about how they are feeling. Instead, they sometimes act out these emotions in very physical and inappropriate ways.” (Vanderbilt) Children can end up experiencing frustration when they haven’t yet learned the words necessary to explain what they are feeling.
Therefore, teaching your child to identify and express emotions and feelings is of paramount importance. Gently helping children to better grasp the vocabulary and tools to identify and express emotions will prepare them for a far more rewarding life. This is because when they learn how to express their feelings in words they can then progress to learning coping mechanisms to express their feelings in healthy ways.
Soul Shoppe provides social emotional learning programs for children. For more than twenty years we’ve created tools and empowered educators to incorporate emotional intelligence into curriculum. Soul Shoppe strategies encourage empathy and emotional awareness in children. Whether helping in the classroom or assisting parents at home, Soul Shoppe brings social skills to the forefront of the discussion. Click for more information on SEL Programs for Elementary Schools or our parent support programs.