Talking to your toddler about other people’s feelings

Emotions are confusing enough for adults, but for toddlers, who generally don’t have the language to talk about them, or the experience to identify them, they can be downright mystifying. Just like walking, talking, and blowing their nose, dealing with their emotions isn’t something your toddler was born knowing, but they're learning more every day. They will learn from the world around them whether you’re conscious that you’re teaching them or not, but putting a little extra thought into teaching them about emotions can help give their emotional education a boost in the right direction.

The importance of other people’s feelings

Understanding other people’s feelings is an important skill for Baby to have all on its own, but it’s also the key to a lot of other important things they're working their way towards. Whether it’s making friends with other children, being well-socialized in preschool, or getting interested in the characters in books, once they start to develop an understanding of other people’s feelings, they'll use that understanding every day of their life.

More than that, by understanding that their feelings and perspective are different from the feelings and perspective of other people will help them keep developing their understanding of themself as an individual, as they grow more and more independant.

Talking about other people’s feelings

Talking about other people’s feelings is a great way to get Baby started thinking about the fact that they exist. Whether it’s part of a conversation – “How do you think it made her feel when you took her truck away? Not good, right?” – or someone the two of you encounter in passing – “He looks frustrated, do you think he’ll feel better if I go over and hold the door so he can carry the box through?” – talking about other people’s feelings in terms of specific situations will get Baby starting to think about cause and effect.

It might seem contradictory, but another big part of talking to Baby about other people’s feelings is talking to them about their own. Talking to them about their own feelings is an important part of helping them grow into a happy, emotionally healthy child on its own, but it also gives them a context for thinking about other people’s feelings. They might know from the boy’s expression that their neighbor is sad, but until they connect that sadness with the way they felt when they lost a favorite toy, that might not mean too much to them.

Book characters are also a great way to introduce concepts about feelings to Baby. Stories give children a framework to think about complex topics like emotions inside of, and books that include Baby’s favorite characters can be a great way to encourage empathy.

  • Christine Carter. “Emotion Coaching: One of the Most Important Parenting Practices in the History of the Universe.” Greater Good. University of California Berkeley, March 16 2009. Web.
  • D’Arcy Lyness. “Talking About Your Feelings.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation, April 2015. Web.
  • “Books About Feelings for Babies and Toddlers.” Zero to Three. ZERO TO THREE: Center For Infants, Toddlers, and Families, February 1 2016. Web.
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