Why Naming Emotions Matters

Why Naming Emotions Matters

What are you feeling?

A question guaranteed to make a room full of adults squirm.

When you think about sharing your emotions right now, would you prefer to leave the conversation or conveniently find something else to do? Maybe it’s because you don’t know how you are feeling or maybe you want to shout ‘none of your business!’.

Expressing emotions can be tough. It can feel overwhelming and vulnerable. This is especially true if you learned as a child that sharing your emotions made you seem weak or shameful.

Emotions aren’t the enemy.

When we stop fighting our emotions, we are able to acknowledge them and move through them in a healthy way.

When I feel anxious or nervous before a presentation I check in with my body and I notice that my heart is beating faster, my stomach is full of butterflies, and my mind is racing. Instead of fighting all this, I choose to embrace it.

Surprising Benefits of Expressing Emotions

Emotions need to be brought to the light, named and moved through in healthy ways. Expressing our emotions helps us:

  • be less fearful
  • calm down quicker
  • bounce back more easily
  • improve communication skills
  • bring harmony and well-being to our mental and physical state

In other words: naming emotions is good for us. It’s also a productive way to learn why a behaviour has occurred.

The Difference Naming Emotions has Made to My Family

I have found that naming emotions has really helped me, my husband and our 6 year old son Kai understand ‘the why’ a behaviour occurred.

The Elephant Emotions Magnet is particularly helpful in getting to ‘the why’ of what initiated the behaviour– his emotions (like sadness, anger, frustration, silly etc). It also helps Kai realize that there are more emotions than ‘good, bad, sad, happy’.

We have used the ‘Elephant Magnet’ that lives on our dishwasher since Kai was 4. He’s now 6 and has used it for so long that all I need to say to him is, ‘What elephant face are you feeling or did you feel when you made that choice?’ and he is able to quickly identify his emotions.

We teach him that it’s ok to feel emotions, but it’s not ok to react to those emotions in a hurtful or disrespectful way just because he’s feeling an emotion.

My husband and I also name our ‘elephant face emotions’ to each other and our son. This way Kai knows what we are feeling instead of having to guess by our behaviour.

An example of this is when I say, ‘Kai, I’m feeling really frustrated right now because you are not listening to mummy’s words.’ I find this does two things:

  1. It allows Kai to learn that naming and communicating emotions is important for all ages.
  2. When I say my emotions out loud it triggers my own brain to acknowledge the emotions I am feeling and to find ways, like deep breathing, to help me move through it before the emotions escalate in a manner that causes guilt and regret later.

I tell myself that it is natural and OK to feel this way. I start to take deep, slow breaths and redirect my mind by focusing on the outcome I want from my presentation instead of worrying ‘What if…..?’

An important part of naming emotions and saying them out loud is fostering the understanding that feeling emotions is OK. By acknowledging and validating emotions you show others and yourself that you are compassionate, empathetic, and supportive.

Building the Habit of Naming Emotions

Use the following steps to build the habit of naming emotions:

1. Name and Validate the Emotions

Use the Elephant Emotions Poster, or purchase the Elephant Emotions Magnet for your fridge and use either one to help you and your children get clear on the emotions being felt.

You could say, ‘That looks like a strong feeling. I know what it’s like. It doesn’t feel good in our body. What emotion were you feeling when you made that choice?’

2. Release Emotions in a Healthy Way

You could say, ‘You were feeling <name the emotion> and you chose to <name the behaviour>. We all have emotions and it’s ok. It’s what we do with the emotion and how we move through it that counts. What’s something you could do to help you move through that emotion in a healthy way?’

Use Healthy Ways To Release Emotions for options or create a list that works for each member of your family, school or office.

3. Encourage Better Choices

Making choices from character instead of reacting from emotions encourages us to act in more respectful ways. For example, you could ask, ‘What would you have done if you were choosing to act out of being a respectful, kind person?’ This allows everyone to see that character-based choices look way different than emotion-based choices.

4. Putting New Choices into Action

Once a character-based choice has been identified put it into action. This could mean apologizing, giving a compliment, cleaning up messes (both physical or in relationships), or helping someone out.

If you are the one that needs to put a new choice into action share that with your child or student so they can see your example and appreciate you as their role model. After all, no one is perfect. We all make mistakes. Life is a learning journey.

The example that we set, as well as the habits we teach, will help us and those around us be happier and healthier.

Until next time,



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