Many of the students I work with struggle to express their emotions. Take for example a preschool boy I work with named “M” who often launches into major tantrums when he does not have time to complete a task (most recently a building project). Although there are many deficits in play here — flexible thinking, emotional regulation, etc–“M” lacks the foundational skill of being able to label his feelings. Even when an adult approaches and asks what the matter is, “M” lacks the emotional vocabulary to recognize and label his inner state. As a result, “M” often misinterprets his own feelings and the feelings of others, causing him to quickly meltdown.
Developmental researchers have stated that emotional literacy is one of the most important skills young child are taught (Webster-Stratton, 1999). This is because emotional literacy is a precursor to emotional regulation and social problem solving. Since emotional literacy is so strongly tied to pragmatic language and social competence, SLPs are uniquely qualified to address deficits in this area. And just like academic literacy, building a wide and varied emotional literacy helps our students to navigate the social world.
I like to help build complexity of emotional vocabulary by teaching feeling words and their definitions directly. Children’s books are a great way to label feelings and notice facial expressions. Here are some of my favorites:
On Monday When It Rained by Cheryl Kachenmeister is a simple pictorial of a boy who experiences a variety of emotions. It’s a good book to help children think about how someone might feel in certain situations. Glad Monster, Sad Monster by Anne Miranda & Ed Emberly is a fun read and kids love trying on the silly masks. I like using it with my Social Monsters resource on TPT.
The Way I Feel by Janan Cain has great images to connect to feelings words.
Feelings by Aliki provides contexts to label a variety of feelings. I like to pick a situation in the story and ask students to consider the character’s reactions and feelings. If you’re using visuals for “Size of the Problem” (read my review here) , this book provides nice opportunities for discussion of problems and reactions.
Dealing With Feelings (Series) by Elizabeth Crary are great for identifying feelings, increasing vocabulary and provide a nice springboard for role play!
A great way to reinforce the emotional vocabulary they are learning is to apply their new words to real-life situations. I have my students draw a time they felt a certain way or something that might make them feel this way. They also write (or just say) a sentence with their feeling word. The worksheet pictured here is part of my resource Emotions Vocabulary in my TPT store.
Do you have any books that you can recommend for building emotional vocabulary? Please share in the comments!