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 her nose, dealing with her emotions isn’t something your toddler was born knowing, but she’s learning more every day. She will learn from the world around her whether you’re conscious that you’re teaching her or not, but putting a little extra thought into teaching her about emotions can help give her 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 she’s working her way towards. Whether it’s making friends with other children, being well-socialized in preschool, or getting interested in the characters in books, once she starts to develop an understanding of other people’s feelings, she’ll use that understanding every day of her life.

More than that, by understanding that her feelings and perspective are different from the feelings and perspective of other people will help her keep developing her understanding of themselves as an individual, as she grows 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 her about her own. Talking to her about her own feelings is an important part of helping her grow into a happy, emotionally healthy child on its own, but it also gives her a context for thinking about other people’s feelings. She might know from the boy’s expression that her neighbor is sad, but until she connects that sadness with the way she felt when she lost a favorite toy, that might not mean too much to her.

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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