Using thinking and feeling words with young children

Help young children build strong social emotional skills by using thinking and feeling words to express their emotions.

Mom hugging boy

Social emotional skills are an important part of early childhood development. When young children learn and practice skills for social emotional health early on, they are better prepared to form close relationships, communicate effectively with others and manage their own emotions.

You can start to build this emotional competency by talking about feelings and exploring what feelings look like—for example, tears often mean you are sad—and talking about the kinds of situations that might make you feel a certain way—for example, disappointed if you don’t get to watch your favorite movie.

Michigan State University Extension suggests using thinking and feeling words to support children in developing strong social emotional skills.

Thinking words

Thinking words are words that relate to how we think about an emotion. These words encourage children to use their imagination and think in ways that are creative. When children practice using thinking words, they can gain skills to understand their emotions and more complicated concepts as they get older.

Some thinking words you can use with young children include: hope, wish, want, care about, worried that, dream, think, prefer, wonder, expect and know.

Feeling words

Feeling words are words we use to describe our specific emotions. These words help children learn to recognize their own emotions and the emotions of other people. Having a word to describe what you are feeling inside is very powerful for young children and it can help them feel like they have some control over that strong emotion.

Some feeling words you can use with children are: happy, annoyed, hurtful pleased, frustrated, interested scared, mad, bored, puzzled and shocked.

Try using thinking and feeling words to give young children lots of ways to understand, describe and express their emotions.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

To learn about the positive impact children and families experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2017 impact report. Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2017, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

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