Naming Feelings

Brain Development

Would you be surprised to learn that 2/3 of brain development happens after we are born? And did you know that brain development plays a role in temper tantrums? Here’s why.

Each part of the brain has a different function (or functions).  Most tasks need us to use more than one part of our brain. This requires connections between those brain parts. When we are born, our brains do not have many connections. As we grow up, our brain makes a lot of connections. Connections that get used often are strengthened. Connections that are rarely used are pruned away. So when we are young, each section of the brain is almost acting on its own.

The part of our brain that is responsible for language is different than the part of our brain which registers feelings. Imagine you have a healthy brain, but those two parts are not well connected. In that case, you could talk and you could feel. But you might have trouble trying to talk about what you were feeling.

Emotional Development

Babies have at least four emotions at birth. As they get older, they add more and more feelings. All this happens before they can talk. Even when they start to talk, the brain connections between the emotion and verbal sections are not yet strong. This explains why young children have a hard time naming what they are feeling. It’s confusing for them, and the feelings can be quite intense. At this stage, they rely on adults to help calm them down.

Young kids will show you how they are feeling with their behaviour or tone of voice. They need help calming down. If the adult does not understand how to soothe the child, he or she can become scared. When babies (or humans of any age) are scared or overwhelmed by big emotions, they either shut down or lose control. This can be hard to notice, like a little baby turning their head away. But it can also show up as a temper tantrum.

Don’t worry, there is good news. Research shows that when we name the feeling, we actually calm down the part of the brain responsible for emotions. We help make those connections between the ‘understanding’ part of the brain and the ‘feelings’ part. This may not sound scientific, but functional MRI scans show it to be true!

Naming Feelings

In case you are not yet convinced of the importance of naming feelings, here are some other fun facts.

Naming feelings undermines a child’s will to push back. There’s not much motivation to push back when you feel understood! And being understood also helps us learn empathy, a key skill in emotional intelligence. There is a lot of data showing that increased emotional intelligence helps adults get better jobs, sustain lasting relationships, and have healthier minds and bodies.

Understanding what our feelings are can help us build self-control and resilience. We learn that it is ok to have feelings and that they pass. Plus, when we know our feelings, we are better able to stand up for them. This means voicing our needs and living according to our inner values. You may not appreciate this now, but consider how proud you will be when your teenager stands up to her peers. This will also help her maintain healthy friendships.

Emotional Coaching

Have you ever heard of ‘Emotional Coaching’? It is exactly what you might imagine. Emotional coaching helps kids improve their knowledge and ability to express emotions. Coaches do not need to protect kids from bad feelings. In fact, it is those bad feelings that help build resilience. Kids who have emotional coaching have better health, higher academic scores, and are happier.  They are more likely to keep a strong relationship with their coach. Hopefully, that is you!

This week we will work on one piece of Emotional Coaching. We will help our kids identify their feelings. This can be a tricky exercise. But trust us, naming feelings works wonders!

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