Today is International Day of Happiness. As the founder of The Wellbeing Alphabet™, a programme which teaches positive emotional wellbeing to children, happiness is a topic close to my heart. In today’s blog I share some brief insights into how children express emotion through words and creativity, and how as parents or professionals we can nurture diversity in emotional expression.

Possessing a rich emotional vocabulary is essential. Words are a method of communication in which a child is able to relay their inner feelings to the outside world. Children have varying levels of emotional vocabulary, just as they have different levels of resilience and emotional awareness. For many children, words are the building blocks of communication. As a parent I have observed that one way of identifying whether a child understands an ‘emotion word’, is to ascertain whether they are able to apply meaning to use. For example, my six-year-old son describes happiness as:

“Happiness is a feeling. It is a nice feeling.”

The definition appears to be appropriate and suggests understanding. I then ask my son what makes him feel happy, his response (in this instance) is:

“I feel happy when I can watch TV, I also feel happy when it’s my birthday.”

The response above demonstrates the application of meaning to the word happy. Understanding is validated through use of the word happy to describe activities which I know my son enjoys. I am however aware of many other elements that add happiness to my son’s life. If children are only provided with opportunity to respond to questions verbally, replies can be limited to the first few ideas that spring to mind in the context of a recent discussion or activity. Encouraging children to engage in story-telling, story writing, imagination and role play supports the expression of emotion in more depth.

It is also essential to recognise that some children express emotion more passionately through art, drama, song or music. These are elements of cultural education that should be nurtured in children to complement linguistic expression. As a parent for example, I have seen that given the opportunity to express emotion through art, my son is incredibly creative. Given the opportunity to express emotions, such as happiness, through drama and music, my son will play instruments, create an elaborate dance and produce song lyrics whilst laughing and smiley profusely!

Hence, whilst an emotional vocabulary is essential, diverse methods of expression must also be nurtured. I sincerely hope that this will be reflected through the provisions on offer throughout homes, educational establishments and children’s services. I could go on to discuss how we measure happiness and emotion through objective and subjective wellbeing, however I will broach that another day due to the length of the discussion. I will leave you with a quote from an inspirational leader who encouraged individuality and creative exploration in children:

“One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.”  (Maria Montessori).

Happy International Day of Happiness!

Nathalie. L. Carter, Founder of The Wellbeing Alphabet™.