These Words Help Explain Big Feelings To Kids

Finding the right words

Childhood is one big whirlwind of emotions. From toddler tantrums to teenage angst, kids experience highs, lows, and countless other feelings in between.

One of the best ways to help them manage all these emotions is to teach kids how to identify and express those big feelings by giving them the right words to do so.

Learning unique words that help describe what may seem like indescribable feelings can help little ones communicate better as well as cultivate empathy. Learning how to use words as expression allows children to understand what others are going through and helps them express themselves too.

To spark those emotional conversations, we've identified 10 big feelings that kids may be struggling to describe. At Dictionary.com, words are our thing, so of course we've found plenty of options for your kiddos to use in these emotional moments.

fear

Fear isn't an easy emotion to come to terms with. The world is big and kids are small, so there's a lot for them to be scared of. However, by talking about the feelings kids have after they've overcome past scary moments, it may help them address fearful emotions in the future.

Maybe your kids stood up for a friend, tried a new food, or jumped off the high diving board—instead of talking about how scared they were before they did these things, put a spin on it. All of these actions were gutsy. 

In these moments, kids were probably feeling fear or trepidation in their gut physically, but the adjective gutsy can be a powerful way to describe how they felt once they overcame it. Plus, it’s a lot more fun to say than brave.

The noun form of the word—gutsiness—can be used to pep kids up for a challenge: “Find your gutsiness!” And, trusting their gut is always a good idea too.

OK, enough digestive talk ... on to the next.

FOMO

Yes, FOMO classifies as a feeling now. Welcome to 2019. But is it the best way to explain the feeling of "missing out" to kids? Probably not.

As kids see images online of their “friends” doing fabulous things, it may spark feelings of sadness, annoyance, or even anger, but the best word to describe this FOMO feeling is actually envious

It’s a feeling as old as time, plus the word envious can be traced back to 1250–1300 Middle English, so kids get a vocabulary and history lesson in one.

Looking for some synonyms? Try jealous, covetous, or feeling attacked by the green-eyed monster. All of these words give kids options to think through that FOMO feeling and, one day if they're lucky, achieve the opposite: JOMO. Yes, that's a real thing too.

sad

Everyone feels sad sometimes, but saying you're sad just doesn't always feel like enough. Sad encompasses a lot too, so why not provide a range of words about sadness instead of limiting it all to one feeling?

First off: gloomy, which is another way to describe feelings of sorrow. When kids can’t pinpoint why they’re feeling less than chipper, but maybe without experiencing full-blown sadness, the visual of a gloomy, gray weather day may resonate.

Gloomy comes from the old Middle English words gloumben and glomen, which mean “to frown.” Somehow, "turn your gloumben upside down" doesn’t have quite the same ring to it though.

Other options: heartbroken, bitter, hurting, mournful, pessimistic, weeping. These words target specific sad experiences and may help kids distinguish why missing a friend feels different from crying because of a stubbed toe.

left out

If this isn't the ultimate big feeling for kids, we don't know what is. Being left out brings out all the feels, but what's the best way to talk about it with kids?

We like the verb overlooked. It describes that slight when they don’t get invited to the party, or when the teacher rarely calls on them, or when the coach doesn’t put them in the game.

The verb overlook means “to fail to notice, perceive, or consider,” and it feels awful to be the recipient of such an action. Other words that can be used to express the same sentiment include forgotten and unnoticed

sorry

We all make mistakes, and those feelings of regret, sorrow and compunction, feel bad. 

Unfortunately, the word sorry isn’t always used meaningfully, and in the era of “sorry, not sorry,” it’s important to talk about when and why the word should be used.

WATCH: When You Should Not Say Sorry

Is sorry overused in your house? Even when intents are good, saying "sorry" can sometimes feel disingenuous or fake. That's why kids may like alternatives such as apologetic, contrite, regretful, remorseful, or ashamed. Using words like these target specific reasons for being sorry, and that makes the apology all the more meaningful.

happy

Being happy is a great thing, but sometimes the word happy doesn't express the pure joy your kiddo is experiencing.

That's why we think being ecstatic is even more powerful.

Ecstatic is a form of the word ecstasy, meaning “rapturous delight” and “an overpowering emotion or exaltation.” 

Its Greek roots are from the word ekstasis, meaning "displacement or trance." Other fun words that express a similar sentiment include elated, euphoric, and exhilarated. This also happens to provide a great opportunity to teach alliteration 😉.

bored

Wouldn’t “I’m feeling blasé,” be a welcome change from the cries of “I’m bored” that start approximately one minute after school lets out for the summer?

With French roots dating back to the early 1800s, blasé means, “indifferent to or bored with life; unimpressed.” See also apathetic, disenchanted, uninterested and, though not officially defined as such in the Dictionary, teenager.

angry

When their siblings push their buttons, a friend betrays them, or any other time that irritation bubbles up, kids feel angry.

There are a number of other words that also mean "angry" though, and they tend to pack an extra punch of emotion, including exasperated, vexed, enraged, and furious. Using these powerful words may help kids get out that anger just by talking about it. Win win!

nervous

It’s that feeling they get when walking into a new situation, before a big test, or when nerves are on high alert. But just asking if a kid is nervous doesn't address the actual feeling they are experiencing.

Jittery offers an alternative to nervous. It’s a relatively new word, an Americanism dating back to 1930–35, around the time of the fast-paced jitterbug dance, whose name was inspired by the jitters alcoholics get.

Other similar words to consider to describe the feeling include anxious, edgy, and apprehensive

thanks

Please and thank you. Doesn't it feel like those are the first two phrases you teach kids? But, teaching them the meaning behind thanks is a bigger lesson too.

It’s never too early to start teaching kids to express gratitude. Helping them learn to identify things they’re grateful for can keep them from focusing too much on negative events.

The word’s origins go back to the mid-1500s to the word grate, meaning “pleasing,” which is now obsolete.

There are plenty of words they can use to express their gratitude to others, but the concept of thanks also provides a fun opportunity to teach kids that everyone around the world experiences this feeling. Plus saying thanks in other languages is pretty fun: gracias, merci, and mahalo all work!

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