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Naming Emotions

Thoughts & Reflections

It can be surprising how much children are learning. How to walk, how to read, how to interact with others. Emotions are human, we have different names for them, or feel some more deeply than others, but they’re universal. They are not learned, but identifying and naming them is learned. It’s another education we accompany children into — identifying, naming, understanding, and moving through emotions.

It’s natural to think of vocabulary for objects. We talk to children long before they can talk to us, or really even comprehend what we’re saying. Are you looking at the flower? That’s a beautiful flower, isn’t it? That’s mommy’s favorite flower, and it’s called a Lily.

We name the world around us — relationships, objects, qualities — but there’s a whole world within us waiting to be named as well.

“This taps into a child’s naturally empathetic tendency.”

Perhaps the first time we do this in the classroom is when a child completes a material and wants to show it off. We don’t say “good job.” They child wasn’t doing it for us, and to imply otherwise might rob the ownership of the achievement.

You look so proud of yourself! Do you want to do it again?

She can now identify this feeling — this sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, a bit of glee — as Pride. It’s a good thing, We seek Pride in ourselves when we’re pushing ourselves with a task a bit beyond reach; Pride is the reward for a job well-done. It is the epitome of internal motivation.

Perhaps a child walks in a bit forlorn. What’s making you so sad?

Perhaps a child is trying something and just can’t get it, and is keenly aware of her current limits. I can see how frustrated this is making you. I feel frustrated sometimes, too.

Naming Emotions Montessori

Along with identifying, naming the emotions, we’re welcoming them into the human experience. Everyone feels this way. You’re not alone simply because you feel lonely, or uncomfortable, or unhappy.

This taps into a child’s naturally empathetic tendency. When we help children to identify how they’re feeling, we not only help them through the emotion, we help them to connect with others.

Someone wasn’t quite ready to wake up and is now frustrated because she can’t put her shoes on. Would you like a tissue? Would you like a hug? Can I help you?

I just lost a tooth, too! Wow!

I remember when I was new, but your mom will come back later! She always does!

These phrases uttered by children are not simply parroted, they are genuine. I see myself in you. Your struggles and your triumphs are the same. In merely naming a child’s feelings, we can help her feel seen and understood, and she passes this along to others.

Written by:

Charlotte Wood

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