When I was working as a school psychologist in the schools, I would frequently stop the students that I was working with to ask them how they were doing. I knew that I was risking falling into a classic psychologist cliche (“Now, tell me how you are feeling.”), but, it was a great way (at least in my mind) to see if problems were emerging and use that brief contact as a way to head them off at the pass. The only problem is that I often got the same response that we give to people when they casually ask us how we are doing.
“Ok, I guess.”
These were the most common responses that I would get and they really didn’t tell me anything. We use these same responses when we don’t really want to respond to someone or just want to move onto the next part of the conversation.
Building a Wealthier Emotional Vocabulary
There is an apocryphal story that the Inuit (Alaskan Eskimos) have 200 words to describe snow. These words describe a variety of different types of snow from the light and fluffy of to the slushy gets inside your boots type.
Why have so many words for what we think of as a simple concept? When you live in a place where it snows a lot, the snow type can be very meaningful and important to you. It helps to dictate your reactions.
We get descriptive about the things that have significance. Because if it is important to you, you want to describe it accurately. If we provide our kids with a wealthier emotional vocabulary, we emphasize the importance of those emotions and give them tools to react with greater agility.
Create an Emotional Crayon Box
As a kid, I always wanted the larger crayon boxes because they had multiple kinds of blue, green, and red. Why color something blue when you can use aquamarine?
Just like colors, emotions can be more diverse than happy, angry, and sad. Introduce your children to a wider range of emotional vocabulary and use words like elated, aggravated, and deflated. They can strengthen their understanding of how they feel by having more words to describe it.
You can break out a chart like this one that many of us had in college with pictures representing different emotional states.
Struggling to help them find the right words to describe their feelings? Grab a dictionary and enlarge your own emotional vocabulary. Maybe you are feeling woebegone or crestfallen instead of sad. You can also look at this list and resource from Lifehacker that includes some unusual words to describe emotions.
You can even create new emotional vocabulary. Remember hangry? It’s the feeling that you get when you haven’t eaten enough and are being upset easily. In our house, you can be slangry which is a state of being cranky from lack of sleep. Allow your kids to create new words to help describe how they feel and embrace them.
At a loss for words? Open up your phone’s keyboard and help them express themselves. Maybe they aren’t happy, but are 🐵📣🎉.
A strong emotional vocabulary is key to helping your child build up their emotional intelligence. It means recognizing that your child’s emotions are complex and not constricted to a simple list (and that yours are also!). It stops us from being emotional bulldozers and tearing down our children’s sense of self. With a growing emotional vocabulary in place, your child is heading down a path towards developing emotional control.
Want to Learn More about Emotion Coaching?
We all have them, but what do we know about helping our children begin to understand their feelings? Learn how to use a five-step process to help your child develop stronger emotional control. Check out this video from our weekly Facebook Live chats to learn more about emotion coaching or sign up for my e-course.
This post contains my affiliate links. Thank you for supporting the blog. For more information, see my disclosure policy.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Join our mailing list to receive more on the intersection of psychology, parenting, and innovation.