Emotional Learning

by Annette Hernandez, Ph. D., Clinical Psychologist

Emotional Learning in the Pre-Verbal Child

Emotional learning has become a hot topic these days in the field of child development. Psychology experts are researching the ways we develop an emotional vocabulary and how we express, recognize, and manage our emotions. Recent studies suggest that individuals exposed to emotional learning early in life, have happier and more successful lives in the future. While it is not always practical or feasible to enroll all our kids in a formal Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) program, there are simple things we can do to help our kids label their emotions. As adults, we are probably all familiar with the notions that simply stating our feelings out loud helps to diffuse those feelings and “center” us. For example, examine the following scenario. You become upset that your partner forgets to put the cap on the toothpaste after using it. Rather than saying, “it’s kind of frustrating when you forgot to put the cap back on the toothpaste, it leaks all over the place, the cat knocks it over, the kids get it on their clothing, etc. etc.”; you hold onto your frustration hoping it will go away, only to find yourself blowing up when he/she does something equally as frustrating and seemingly insignificant later in the day. If you express your emotion, in the moment…in a calm voice, looking the person in the eye, and using an appropriate level of physical contact (such as a hand on the other person’s shoulder); you convey your emotion providing a release for yourself and you are communicating with the other person. While the action described above may be relatively easy for an adult to do, how does it work for a young child, particularly one that is pre-verbal. Continue reading