Labeling Emotions: John Medina’s “Brain Rules for Baby”Posted: July 22, 2011
Labeling emotions is neurologically calming
Here’s what we think is going on in the brain. Verbal and non-verbal communication are like two interlocking neurological systems. Infants’ brains haven’t yet connected these systems very well. Their bodies can feel fear, disgust, and joy way before their brains can talk about them. This means that children will experience the physiological characteristics of emotional responses before they know what those responses are. That’s why large feelings are often scary for little people (tantrums often self-feed because of this fear). That’s not a sustainable gap. Kids will need to find out what’s going on with their big feelings, however scary they seem at first. They need to connect these two neurological systems. Researchers believe that learning to label emotions provides the linkage. The earlier this bridge gets constructed, the more likely you are to see self-soothing behaviors, along with a large raft of other benefits. Researcher Carroll Izard has shown that in households that do not provide such instruction, these nonverbal and verbal systems remain somewhat disconnected or integrate in unhealthy ways. Without labels to describe the feelings they have, a child’s emotional life can remain a confusing cacophony of physiological experiences.