How Does Language & Communication Affect Children's Emotions?

People form thoughts by using words and familiar definitions. Language helps children understand emotions, both within themselves and understanding the emotions of others. A child uses words to define the complex, and often differing, emotional feelings that she feels. Language and nonverbal communication become a means of facilitating emotional growth and development.

Nonverbal Communication Connection

Nonverbal communication is the subtle facial expressions, hand gestures or eye movements that communicate messages to people who can see you. These can be subtle, such as a slight turn in your eye's direction, or expressive, such as a look of sudden joy when you laugh. Nonverbal communication relates information about you that you may want known, but also information that you may wish to keep secret. They can suggest that you are being deceitful or relate unintended emotions. Children learn to hide their nonverbal communications later in their development, but earlier, these nonverbal signs help children understand the emotions they are feeling.

Dissolving Ambiguities

Nonverbal signs are often very non-specific. For instance, a look of fear and a look of surprise can be very similar. Emotions can seem very non-specific until the child learns how to tell the difference between similar emotions. A child can understand love, from and for their parents, but similar emotions, for specific toys and games, are not love. Language provides children with the ability to distinguish between different emotional feelings. Once a child understands the difference between the words "love" and "favourite," she can begin understanding the difference between her feelings for her parents and for her toys.

Language as Context

Differing emotions can be confusing to a child. This includes differences in the severity of emotions as well as the subtle ambiguities between entirely different emotions. The confusion that comes with the inability to differentiate between emotions can cause distress to young children, including feelings of anxiety. Language provides children with the ability to understand these emotional differences and avoid those feelings of anxiety and confusion. Additionally, language provides a context for children to understand and identify the emotions that other people show them. This allows children to emotionally develop, gaining knowledge of emotions and how those emotions function between people.

Emotions as a Construct

An emotion is a collection of events that occur in the body. As an example, when a child sees his father, he may feel a mixed emotional feeling that draws him to his father and makes him want to run and hide. His face may show an expression of fear and humiliation. His mental reaction may force the child to stand where he is. This complex series of events is a construct of occurrences. Collectively, a child may put this construct into a series of words in his mind, "I love and respect my father, but I did something that he won't like."

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About the Author

Kristyn Hammond has been teaching freshman college composition at the university level since 2010. She has experience teaching developmental writing, freshman composition, and freshman composition and research. She currently resides in Central Texas where she works for a small university in the Texas A&M system of schools.