When V had just started talking, she obviously had a lot of screaming episodes because she couldn’t express her emotions. We weren’t sure when to start helping her label her feelings, but we did, when the meltdowns became more frequent.
We started with ourselves. We would smile, and tell her what we feel. “Wow, a gift. I’m feeling delighted!” or “Why isn’t the gas working? I’m feeling frustrated.” Or when she would jump on me, “V that hurts. I feel upset when you don’t listen to me.” The upside to this approach was, that along with the words and situations, she was learning that it is perfectly healthy to express one’s emotions.
The first step is of course, that the child understands her own feelings. But when her emotional intelligence starts developing, she would start picking up cues from others’ facial expressions as well. At this point, drawing attention to the expression along with the word for it helps. We also did a lot of play on this topic- flash cards, guessing someone’s feeling based on their picture and a possible reason, a lot of pretend play, etc.
Emotions words for toddlers
I would suggest teaching the basic happy, sad, scared and angry at first. But to keep exposing the child to more vocabulary. Once these emotions are used regularly in right contexts, words like excited, cranky, etc. This has also helped me contain tantrums on many days. V would be having a meltdown but would tell me clearly – “Amma I’m not upset. I’m cranky. I do not know why I’m upset. I need a hug.” And that would make my job a 100 times easier.
Once the child is aware of her feelings, it becomes much more easier to teach her to handle them better and model non-hurtful behaviour.
Although these steps do not happen overnight, they do happen. For us, at 2.9, the last step is still work in progress. But we do see the positive effects on a daily basis, and keep at it.