Vocabulary is key to a child’s social and emotional development (Russell 1990). That’s because, as Maurice Elias notes, “vocabulary does not simply represent the definitions of words”. An increased knowledge of vocabulary also encompasses an increased awareness of concepts and constructs that affects how a child perceives reality, and this has profound implications for their social and emotional growth.
When a child’s emotional vocabulary is limited, their ability to identify how they and others feel is much less precise. They might, for instance, say they are “angry” when in fact they are “frustrated”, “annoyed”, or “insulted”, and thus fail to express the important nuances of how they feel. Acquiring a more sophisticated feelings vocabulary allows children to identify their own and others’ emotions, and therefore manage them more effectively.
Lieberman et al. 2007
In fact, Lisa Feldman Barrett and others have suggested that knowledge of emotional vocabulary actually shapes the sensory processing involved in seeing emotion in other people’s faces. The more specific and precise the language that a person has at their disposal to label emotion, the more accurately they can identify these emotions in others.
Feldman Barrett et al. 2007
Research also shows that students who can accurately label feelings experience fewer misunderstandings, have more successful social interactions, and achieve better results in school.
Rivers, Brackett, Reyes, Mayer, et al. 2012