Teaching BIG Feelings to Little People Using Music and Literacy

Emotional Intelligence is defined as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and expression of one’s emotions, and ability to handle relationships judiciously and empathetically” (Oxford University Press, 2023). Children as young as two months old are capable of showing feelings by crying or smiling to their parents. By 4-12 months, they might show excitement by waving their arms and legs, may frown with displeasure, be calmed when comforted, and make happy sounds when they feel safe and amused. When children reach the toddler stage of 1-3 years, they increase their emotional repertoire by being shy around strangers, having moments of anger with tantrums, showing affection with familiar people, and/or being empathic without prompting. Navigating the emotional complexities of young children can be challenging. However, it is the key to both personal and professional success.

There are a couple of simple ways to begin to acknowledge and label emotions that can help teach your child about their feelings:

Sing songs about feelings.

Children like music. Music can build connections, increase feelings of safety, promote brain development, and teach many skills including emotional intelligence. Mad, sad, happy, scared, and excited are simple feelings to label. Ask your child, “What does happy feel and look like?” Or “What does your body do when you are mad?” Use these answers to guide you as you sing “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” Model the emotions that you want to practice and teach as you sing the song together. Another song to consider is “Feelings,” which adapts the melody from “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

I have feelings, so do you. Let’s all sing about a few.

We get happy, we get sad. We get scared, we get mad.

I am proud of being me. That’s a feeling, too, you see.

A collection of books about feelings

Read books about feelings.

Choose some age-appropriate books to snuggle up with your child to learn more about feelings. With babies, it may just be a picture book of faces with different emotions. Toddlers and Preschoolers might be ready to learn more descriptive books about how they feel. Here are few books to consider:

  • The Way I Feel by Janan Cain
  • Grumpy Bird, by Jeremy Tankard
  • Happy Hippo, Angry Duck, by Sandra Boynton
  • In My Heart: A Book of Feelings (Growing Hearts), by Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
  • Glad Monster, Sad Monster, by Ed Emberley and Anne Miranda
  • The Feelings Book, by Todd Parr

Modeling and guiding your child’s emotions are not easy tasks, but with a couple tools, you can help your child begin to positively navigate the way they feel.

“Feelings are much like waves, we can’t stop them from coming, but we can choose which one to surf.”

Jonathan Martensson


Big Feelings in Little People-Ways to Support Children in Managing Difficult Emotions. www.mindspark.org/blog/2022

Shauna L. Tominey, Elisabeth C. O’Bryon, Susan E. Rivers, Sharon Shapses. Teaching Emotional Intelligence in Early Childhood. Young Children, March 2017

Social and Emotional Milestones. www.helpmegrowmn.org/HMG/DevlopMilestone/SocialEmotionalMilestones

Published on Date: Mar 20, 2023
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