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Tools for Practicing Joy and Building Your Emotional Vocabulary

Social and Emotional Resources

2020 has been a rough year. As we go into the new year with the promise of a vaccine on the horizon, we may find ourselves reflecting on all the events that have happened this year. There may be a lot of emotions that come up doing this kind of introspection and reflection in the winter months. As a family, it will be important to support each other while processing these emotions. This post shares two practices gifted families can do to help navigate big feelings and find emotional balance.

Expanding a child’s emotional vocabulary has been a long-recommended practice in the gifted and twice-exceptional community. These children often experience asynchronous development which may mean feeling intense emotions at a young age with very few coping skills to work through them – meltdowns, tantrums, and tears, oh my! However, developing an emotional vocabulary helps gifted children identify and express the source of their distress. This can allow parents and educators to empathize and help them develop the appropriate tools they need to tame the unpleasant emotions. Taking away the confusion and shame around feeling “bad” emotions also helps gifted students better navigate their rich inner lives that can, in turn, lead to strengthening other skills, such as creativity, leadership, and learning more broadly.

Tips for Naming and Taming Emotions

    • Refer to emotional vocabulary lists together to help your child understand the nuances of different emotions and accurately describe what they are feeling. A few examples of emotional vocabulary lists are shared below in the additional resources section.
    • Practice saying the feeling out loud to label it. This act of labeling out loud will give you some needed space to decide how you want to respond to the emotion.
    • Note where in your body you feel that particular emotion, so you understand how your body responds to specific emotions and recognize your body’s warning signs for next time.
    • Take deep, slow breaths in and out to calm the body and move your brain out of the fight, flight, or freeze state.
    • Try not to use moral labels like “good” and “bad” when talking about emotions. Instead, try to use words like “pleasant” and “unpleasant.”
    • Practice, practice, practice! It takes time to help children (and even adults) name and tame their emotions.

It is also important to remember to give just as much bandwidth to more pleasant emotions as we do to voicing our unpleasant emotions. This can be difficult for our reactive brains that are primed to seek out potential dangers or anticipate future-problems. The gifted community may experience this reactive state in the form of perfectionism, anxiety, or even existential dread. However, cultivating joy can be an important step to combating long-term pessimistic worldviews or negative self-talk. Practicing moments of mindfulness to tune into joy can help deepen our sense of gratitude, contentment, and empathy for everyday life.

Tips for Practicing Joy

    • Take moments throughout the day to pause and be present in the moment. One way to do this is to focus on your five senses – what can you hear, see, smell, feel, or taste right now?
    • Bring awareness to what gladdens you. Notice what makes you smile and feel a sense of wellbeing, such as a favorite beverage, a pet, a particularly cool looking cloud, someone holding the door open for you, or a song.
    • Find happiness in others’ joy. This may be hard in a competitive culture but feeling happiness for others makes their success ours and our success theirs, rather than cultivating feelings of inadequacy.

Whatever way you and your family are ringing in the new year, we hope you are able to be fully present for each other during the holidays and take the time to appreciate your moments of joy!

For more resources on emotional intelligence and finding joy:


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