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Talking about emotions

“Always be open and honest with your child and let them be the driving force for the decisions made about them. This can help relieve worries about whether you’re doing the right thing, as ultimately you’re listening to what your child wants, which makes a happy child and a happy parent.”

Tina is mum to Charlie (8)

Children learn through experience. Feelings and emotions act as a guide, telling a person what they do or don’t like, such as the physical feeling of a sharp pin prick, or the emotionally uplifting words of a close friend.

Young children demonstrate their feelings and emotions by crying, laughing, whinging and any number of behaviours. As they grow up, they pick up words, signs and/or expressions to communicate their emotions and feelings. They receive feedback from family, friends and strangers that helps them to learn new ways of regulating their behaviour.

A deaf child with good emotional health and wellbeing will have the skills to communicate and understand their feelings and those of others. However, these skills can be challenging for deaf children who may not have the vocabulary to ‘label’ their emotions. This can lead them to act out their feelings through tantrums and inappropriate behaviour. 

It is important that your deaf child is able to understand their feelings and emotions and communicate them to you. For worksheets and other activities to help you talk about emotions, download or order our free resource What Are You Feeling? You can also watch our accompanying playlist of British Sign Language (BSL) signs for feelings and emotions.

Below are some further tips on how you can achieve this.

One activity you can use to help your child to learn about their emotions is by practicing the words and signs they need to name their feelings. Start with some basic emotions:

  1. happy
  2. sad
  3. love
  4. hate
  5. angry
  6. afraid

Draw or cut out pictures from magazines to match each feeling, and stick them onto a set of flashcards. Teach your child the sign or word for the feeling, explore when this feeling may happen and demonstrate the feeling with role play. The child can use the flashcards to let you know how they feel by pointing to the card with the appropriate face.

Over time, you can build up to learning words and/or signs for more complex feelings such as frustrated, embarrassed, surprised, nervous, grateful, jealous, guilty, excited, anxious, curious, upset, worried, confident, annoyed, pleased, disappointed, confused, interested etc. Have the flashcards visible around the home and try to integrate their corresponding words and signs into your conversations as a family.

The ability to use language socially and adapt it to different situations is called pragmatics. Find out more about pragmatics.

As a parent, it’s important to be honest and open about your own feelings and emotions. If your child uses sign language, make sure you sign to them about your own feelings as well as theirs.

After reading a book or watching a film together, take time to talk about how the characters felt, and what they did to resolve those feelings.

Remember, it’s OK for your deaf child to show their emotions and feelings as long as they do so in a way that doesn’t hurt others. Exploring different words and signs for emotions and feelings will help your child learn to express how they feel in a safe and constructive way.

It's important to talk about the feelings of others and the consequences of your child’s actions and reactions. Ask your child what their reaction would be to a friend who is ‘happy’, ‘sad’ or ‘angry’. This can be explored further by giving each emotional situation a context. For example, ask them what they would feel if their friend is angry with something in general. They may say ‘worried’ or ‘interested’. But what if there friend was angry with them? They may say ‘guilty’ or ‘sad’.

Then go on to ask them how they think a person may react if they acted ‘happy’, ‘excited’, ‘aggressive’ etc.  Explore all their feelings, and be honest. It may be hard to talk about negative feelings but it’s very important to acknowledge the entire spectrum of human emotions. It’s important for your child to be comfortable with having strong feelings, know how their feelings will affect others and know that they’re in control of them.  

Incidental learning, also called passive learning, happens through overhearing (when children hear speech that is not directed at them). Overhearing helps children to build vocabulary, grammar and general knowledge. An example of this would be overhearing a conversation about a new programme on TV. The listener unintentionally learns from this conversation and goes on to make use of it in their own life, such as watching the TV programme themselves.

We can take for granted how much incidental learning helps us to develop a broader view of the world and the people around us. Deaf children growing up in a hearing environment may have limited access to incidental learning compared to their hearing peers. This can be particularly important for children when learning about emotions and feelings.

It is important that parents are aware of this and set an example by becoming open communicators. This might mean having to explain tricky subject matters as deaf children and young people may miss out on these important conversations. You can help your child to develop by ensuring that they have access to a rich variety of social experiences with both deaf and hearing people.