In language development, children first learn vocabulary related to people, objects and actions, but as they grow older they incorporate more complex and abstract terms called mentalistic terms, that is, words to express feelings, thoughts and ideas.How and when do children learn the words to express emotions?
They are words we use to talk about people's feelings, thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. They are used to talk about what is happening in someone's mind. There are many words to describe what people feel and think:
- Words to talk about what people want, for example, the verbs want, desire, expect, prefer, desire or need.
- Words to describe how people feel physically: hunger, tiredness, illness, tranquility, exhaustion, pain, fatigue, fullness, heat or cold.
- Words that describe what the senses notice: hear, see, smell, feel or taste.
- Words to talk about emotions. Fear, surprise, enjoy, happy, pleasant, unpleasant, sad, happy, ashamed, fearful or angry.
- Words to talk about other people's thoughts, beliefs and judgments, like believe, think, know, guess, remember, understand, forget, good, bad, naughty, funny, annoying, unfriendly or pleasant.
Why is it so important for children to incorporate these terms into their language and what can it contribute to them in their lives, in their contact with others and in their future? What can you serve them for and how can they benefit?
- To develop the cognitive ability of 'Theory of mind'
That children can understand and use words to express feelings and thoughts is essential for the development of the 'Theory of mind', which implies understanding that other people have thoughts and feelings different from ours.
The Theory of mind It is a complex cognitive ability that allows a person to attribute mental states to himself and others, it allows to infer beliefs, desires, feelings, thoughts and in this way to interpret, explain or understand his own behavior and that of others, as well as predict them and control them.
- To develop conversation skills
When children can talk about their own thoughts and feelings and begin to understand and infer what is happening in someone else's mind, conversations are longer, can be held longer, and are linguistically richer . If a child can express feelings and expose their thoughts, they can be understood by other people, facilitating dialogue and interaction.
- To understand stories, stories and movies
That children understand and use vocabulary related to thoughts and feelings gives them tools to get in tune with what the characters in a story or movie feel and think, they can infer actions and motivations of the characters and use this information to communicate and interact with other children and adults.
- To learn to self-regulate and anticipate
That children can understand and express thoughts and feelings helps them learn ways to manage their emotions, predict and infer actions of other people, understand and anticipate situations, allowing greater control of their impulses and self-regulation.
Around the age of 2, the child begins to use words to express his wants and needs. They are very egocentric and the language accompanies this egocentricity, for example, 'I want a cookie'; to express what they see: 'I see puppy'; to express what they feel physically 'I'm hungry'. And, little by little, they talk about what happens in other people's minds, like 'Sad girl', when a girl is seen crying or in anguish.
At 3 years of age they begin to use words such as think, know or guess. A characteristic phrase of this age is 'I know', referring to themselves. Gradually they incorporate more words to express feelings and physical sensations, such as happy, angry, tired, bored ...
Between 4 and 5 years they begin to refine their understanding and use of words. They incorporate new words about people's thoughts, beliefs, and judgments: believe, forget, remember, need.
Understanding and using terms to describe thoughts and feelings takes a long time, even after age 8 they still incorporate more complex terms.
And now that we know how important it is for children to incorporate these words into their vocabulary, it's time to work at home. Here you have a series of activities that you can do as a family.
- Talk about your child's thoughts and feelings
Take advantage of everyday situations and events to incorporate these words. Example: If the child went to his grandparents' house and is very excited, you can say: 'You really liked going to the grandparents' house, right? I think it was a lot of fun. ' In this way you will be helping him to express what he feels and thinks.
- Tell him what you feel and think
If you are very tired because they walked a lot, you can accompany with the body attitude and gesture of exhaustion and say: 'Uff, I'm very tired, we walk a lot'. If the child is eating something that he likes a lot, you can look at it and say: 'I see you love that cookie, I love chocolate.' You will help him to understand wishes and preferences of other people.
- Look at books together
If in a book there is a child with an angry face, you can make a comment like: 'I think he got angry because they don't let him go out to the park, what do you think? Why is he so angry? ' You can also comment: 'I think it's going to rain because the clouds are black. What do you think?'. This way you will have to do the exercise of inferring behaviors and feelings of other people and you will learn to use mentalistic terms such as believe and think.
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