One of the most significant stages in the emotional development of a child is when they begin to recognize, name and talk about their emotions. A whole world of expression and connection opens up to them as they confidently recognize their emotions and act up on their feelings. If you ask a young child how they feel, they progress from happy/sad to angry/upset/excited and then on to more complex emotions as they begin to use language for expression, rather than just physical responses to situations.
According to Vanessa Temple, Coordinator: Foundation Years at Hartland International School, getting to grips with naming an emotion is not always easy for children. “To help with this, I always have lots of child-friendly mirrors around so that children can see themselves, make faces, and express emotions visually and start to make a connection between what they feel and how they look”, she says. “What does my face look like when I am happy (eyebrows up, cheeks up, smile) and what does my face look like when I am sad (eyebrows down, mouth closed)? Feel your face; what does it physically feel like to express these two emotions?”
“The extension of this is then to start to recognize feelings in others. Not as straightforward as you may think, especially when young children are not really sure of their own feelings! Making the connection between what you look like when you feel a specific emotion, with what your friends look like is something that needs to be supported in all children, not just those that seem to struggle connecting with peers. If I look like this when I am happy, how do my friends look when they are happy?”
For many children the concept that a person is happy or sad when their face looks a certain way, regardless of who is making the face, is very challenging. To start to make connections with what they see on the faces of others, and how those people feel, and then connect it to what they feel themselves, is so important! Establishing these connections at a very young age makes them emotionally mature and sensitive towards others feelings.
By recognizing how others feel, children can begin to sympathize, and modify their behaviour accordingly. The importance of responding to the physical expression of emotions in others is extremely important for young children as they start to really connect with friends and show that they are ready to be caring, social and confident!