How to Teach Kids About Emotions and Improve Behavior As a Result

By amandaberlin on December 28, 2015 in Blog

Books have long been tools that parents use to teach and connect with their children. As it turns out, even wordless books read to children who are preverbal are hugely beneficial—in a number of ways.

A recent study from the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics concluded that parents who use wordless books paired with something called “emotion talk” could lower the potential for behavior problems in at-risk toddlers.

Emotion talk includes four specific things. When used together they refer to something known as “emotion bridging.”

  • Labeling (e.g., “She’s sad.”)
  • Context (e.g., “She’s sad because she lost her dog.”)
  • Behavioral indicators (e.g., “She looks sad. Look, she’s crying.”)
  • Linking emotions to experiences (e.g., “You were sad when you lost your toy.”)

Researchers conclude that emotion talk seems to support children’s social-emotional competencies by helping them to understand emotions in context and more ably interpret and manage emotional situations.

These are critical skills that help children, over time, manage emotional impulses, cope with stress and emotionally arousing events, and interact in socially appropriate ways with peers and adults.

According to the study, maternal emotion bridging plays an important role in behavioral outcomes for toddlers at higher risk for a number or reasons.

  • Emotion bridging provides exposure to emotion words and the contexts of emotions. Over time, exposure to emotion words and concepts may aid the toddler in acquiring new linguistic and social tools and skills to regulate emotions and behavior, resulting in reduced behavioral problems.
  • Some research has shown that the emotional skill building that occurs during conversations about emotions likely aids young children in regulating their own behaviors.

Here are three more ways you can practice emotion bridging at home.

  1. Using a wordless picture book, begin pointing to pictures and describing what you see. “Look, the kitty is sitting in her bed and she is happy.”
  2. Give the story and the emotion context by saying something like, “The bed the kitty is sitting in looks really comfy. She’s happy because she’s so comfortable.”
  3. Associate the emotion to a behavior. “The kitty is comfortable. The kitty is happy. The kitty is smiling because she’s happy. You smile when you’re happy, too.”

Tell us in the comments below how you’ve taught your kids about how to express emotions. What are your best tips?

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