Teaching Emotion Words to Children

Michelle Morgado, MA, CCC-SLP | Speech-Language Pathologist
October 28, 2020

Children’s abilities to label emotions start developing as early as 2 years of age. Toddlers will first use emotion labels to describe emotions in themselves and then will later learn to reference other people.

The number of emotion words understood by children doubles between the ages of 4 and 8 years and then doubles again between the ages of 9 and 12 years.  These are the best years to teach children all the emotion words in their growing vocabularies.

Fun Ways to Teach Emotion Words to Children

  1. Play Charades – Take turns acting out different emotion words, with your face and body, and have another person guess the emotion.
  2. Watch Videos of other people showing emotions on their face.  Try to guess the emotion.
  3. Play “How would you feel if…?”  Create a story or scenario, such as “How would you feel if you broke your favorite toy?” or “How would you feel if you won a game?”  See if the child can think of an emotion they would feel in each situation.
  4. Read books!  Look at books with pictures of people and try to guess emotions by looking at their faces.
  5. Play with a mirror.  Make faces in a mirror and try to guess the emotion.


Baron-Cohen, Simon, Golan, Ofer, Wheelwright, Sally, Granader, Yael and Hill, Jacqueline. (2010, November 25). Emotion word comprehension from 4 to 16 years old: a developmental survey. Frontiers in Evolutionary Science.

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