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How To Teach Your Child About Emotions In Three Simple Steps

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Emotions are conceptualized as important internal monitoring and guidance systems, designed to appraise events and motivate human action. Emotion signals (the outward and visible signs) permit individuals to interpret, predict, and influence the behaviour and motivations of companions (unless there is a deliberate attempt to mislead or deceive). This view emphasizes emotions as organizers of personal and interpersonal life and of development itself.

Age plays a very important role in understanding emotions. Children are often able to identify the emotion but fail to put a name to it. In a study, it was found that the ability of children to identify positive emotions is much greater than their ability to bracket negative emotions. Children recognize emotions when they can relate to them. Therefore, the best way to teach children about emotions is through their response to various situations. The ability of a child to recognize emotions depends upon expression identification. 

All emotions we escapade or witness serve as a compass for navigating towards life. For children, the dexterity of identifying emotions can prove to be a compass of their lives. The children can be taught the ‘3 Question Rule’ which persuades them to recognize the situations and manage their emotions accordingly.

Rule 1: “How Do I Feel Inside My Body?”

This rule is known as the feeling component and is the most predictable ingredient in the recipe of emotional discovery. The internal senses within the body help the child to express himself partially. For example, if a child has an upset stomach, he might feel painful and sad.

However, if the child is healthy and well-fed, he will feel happy and joyful. Even though the internal senses contribute towards the creation of emotions, they cannot be considered as the sole patron because some emotions like anger and fear are detected similarly. A child might feel fearful and angry when a bully hits him. Thus, it is necessary to introduce the second rule.

Rule 2: “What Should I Say To Myself?”

How children perceive situations is imperative for them to react. The thinking or the cognitive component helps children to interpret emotions and act accordingly. This rule is like a response to stimuli. When you offer a bar of chocolate to children, they tell themselves that they like it and in an instant get happy.

Similarly, in situations where they feel different, they should ask themselves if they know what is happening with them. Understand, only when they’ll know, they’ll speak about it. This rule will help them understand themselves and their feelings well.

Rule 3: “What Do I Do?”

Confusion is the main emotion which a child detects in unknown situations. Instead of asking the second question, children jump to the third one which later on creates a feeling of self-blame in case of any mishappening. This behavioural component is paramount as it teaches your child how to react in a situation.

For example, if a friend of your child is quiet or not playing with him, your child will know that the friend is either sad or angry. These situations help your child in driving conclusions in terms of emotions. In other words, behaviours are a direct reflection of thoughts and physiological arousal associated with the situation.

Since emotions are discrete and measurable, they can be classified into six simple categories that can be taught to the children so that they can express themselves in times of need. These are listed below:


This is one of the easiest emotions you can teach your child about. All you need to do is give your child some examples which make him happy and delighted. Happiness is associated with positive psychology. The child may experience contentment, joy, satisfaction, or gratification- all lying under happy. Smiles, laughter, and giggles are all ways to know if your child is happy or not. Some of the examples which can be used to teach your child about this emotion are:

  1. How do you feel when your mother cooks your favourite food?
  2. How do you feel when your teacher praises you?
  3. How do you feel when you shake hands with your friends?
  4. How do you feel when you meet your friends after a long time?
  5. How do you feel when you play on swings?


Sad cannot be highlighted as a contributor to the negative psychology of a child. There is a possibility that the child is just disinterested which we perceive to be sad. A child may cry when sad or dwell on depression in more severe cases. Sadness is an emotion that is entwined with anger and fear. Some of the examples which can be used to teach a child about sadness are:

  1. How do you feel when your sibling breaks your toy?
  2. How do you feel when you score low in exams?
  3. How do you feel when you drop your ice cream on the floor?
  4. How do you feel when you get scolded?
  5. How do you feel when you lose a game?

Shyness And Embarrassment

Shyness is an emotion that is related to positive psychology whereas embarrassment is related to negative. For a five-year-old, explaining the difference between the two can be tough. Shyness is associated with feelings of self-consciousness and nervousness. However, embarrassment is associated with feelings of discomfort and insecurity. When you ask a child to dance in front of guests, he might feel shy.

But, if they fall on the ground in front of their friends, they might feel embarrassed. Even though both upsurge feelings of humility and make the child antsy, they are divided into positive and negative. Some of the examples which can be used to explain the feeling of discomfort to the child are:

  1. How do you feel when you are asked to recite a poem in front of the class?
  2. How do you feel when you spill water on your dress?
  3. How do you feel when you fall on the slip on a banana peel?
  4. How do you feel when you trip in public?
  5. How do you feel when your mother scolds you in front of everyone?


Generally, fear is not easily observed in a child until it is instilled in him. However, this emotion is the most observed in children when they are abused. Whenever a child experiences discomfort, he develops a feeling of anxiety. The child fears to go to school if the abuser is a teacher or a conductor. He fears meeting a specific relative if that relative is an abuser. Thus, this emotion should be paid attention to the most. Some of the examples which can be used to explain the child the feeling of fear and terror are:

  1. How do you feel in the dark?
  2. How do you feel when you break a vase and your mother scolds you?
  3. How do you feel when a dog starts barking and growling?
  4. How do you feel when you watch a horror movie?
  5. How do you feel when you forget to do your homework?


The feeling when you get information that does not make sense to you, leaving you uncertain what to do with it is confusion. When a child experiences unsafe touch at a very young age, he encounters the feeling of disgust for the first time as the body responds to the touch in a particular manner. This feeling being new, often confuses the child. Thus, it is easier to teach a child about confusion than disgust.

People who are confused tend to momentarily stop their actions and frown, look slightly downwards, or touch their forehead, expressing that they need a moment to make the mental match or reject one of the pieces of information. Some of the examples which can be used to teach a child this particular emotion are:

  1. How do you feel when you are given two different colours of clothes to wear?
  2. How do you feel when someone asks you what you want to play today?
  3. How do you feel when somebody hits you unintentionally in a public place?
  4. How do you feel when you have to select from a bar of chocolate and ice cream of your choice?
  5. How do you feel when you do not know the answer to a question in an exam?


This emotion contributes to the negative psychology of a person more, as compared to ‘sad’ emotion. It can, however, be a good thing by acting as a motivation for finding solutions to difficult situations or uncomfortable environments.

However, this emotion bears with itself consequences. A child can be angry when the guardian does not fulfil his wishes appropriately. Mostly, short temperament is an aftereffect of abuse and the primary stage of trauma. Thus, it should be looked out for in the child very cautiously. Some of the examples which can be used to teach the child about anger are:

  1. How do you feel when your friend pushes you off the swing?
  2. How do you feel when your mother does not cook your favourite meal?
  3. How do you feel when someone breaks your toy?
  4. How do you feel when someone scolds you for no reason?
  5. How do you feel when someone touches you without consent?

Happy and sad are the easiest to connect with as a child sees the world in black and white. To him, all the positive emotions are happy and the negative ones are sad. Due to this, they often fail to put a name to other emotions like anger, fear, or confusion. 

Situations involving certain negative emotions, particularly sad and angry, may continue to confuse young children because both involve similar motivational bases in interpersonal contexts. In a given situation, either emotion may be appropriate, depending on the emphasis given by the particular person -either of the blocked states, resulting in anger, or the loss of the wanted object, leading to sadness.

Thus, although young children are confusing anger for sadness in interpreting situations, some of this confusion may be inherent like our expressions of these emotions in our social world. Another possibility is that the children chose sadness instead of anger in situations because of social desirability. It also is noteworthy that neither angry nor sad situations are confused with fear-provoking situations; in the case of fear, an unwanted state of affairs is anticipated, and this crucial difference may support the rejection of fear in these cases. 

All emotions, even those that are suppressed and unexpressed have physical effects. Ascertaining emotions is the very first step in teaching a child about abuse. It is the first step in helping your child understand abuse and act against it. Remember, only when they’re aware, they dare.

(Note to readers: The observations and definitions have been written directly from research papers to bring exact information to the readers.)

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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