Leading and Caring for Children

Emotion/Feeling Vocabulary

Vocabulary of Emotions PDF

Feelings Vocabulary: Expressing Emotions

I spent some time with a dictionary and a thesaurus gathering words for a list of feelings expressed in English with an emphasis upon variety. I organized them in column categories and divided them into strong, medium, and light. Emotions aren’t all bad, you know.

Happiness — Caring — Depression — Inadequacy — Fear — Confusion — Hurt — Anger — Loneliness — Remorse

Vocabulary of Emotions PDF

Of course I don’t list every word, but I hoped to generate a comparably sized set in each category, so people in the helping professions, especially teachers of very young children, would be able to glance at a chart on the wall to scan for a word that might match what a child is feeling at the moment. I had four copies up in different places in the classroom. I used them frequently.

Feelings, not emotions, Tom

A joy of building this site has been learning from others who share their wisdom. Neil Katz of Nova Southeastern University in Florida offered the suggestion to use Feelings instead. Generally, emotions are the upwellings that we can’t really think about. Like hunger, an emotion happens; it can’t really be described or conveyed. Feelings are how we attempt to represent those emotions in words or art. That clarity helps.

My motivation in making a list arose from a feeling of helplessness in being a leader of a community of young children whose emotions were never disguised. Having Mommy drop you behind a closing door left me in a parallel angst that was hard for me to deal with, too. A bit sorrowful, I would say. The child who sat in his cubby and hissed like a snake every day left me—how would I say it—empty, somehow, because he was in distress. I wanted to figure out what to do.

After years of study, I found that the problem was mine, not the child’s. Most adults have a tendency to want to appease or soothe the emotional event as if it were a problem that needed fixing. On the contrary: emotions are to be savored; they are living life fully; they are an essential aspect of being human. When emotions arise, we can use the moment to connect with each other.

The vocabulary document and the Active Listening convention (which Neil suggests is better termed “reflective listening”) seemed to be a way for adults to be not only supportive of emotional awareness but also educative, so the community of care can communicate, validate, and love. The vocabulary chart, in the context of the emotional event, helps us step the indefinable towards emergent expression. For convenience I am leaving the links the same while changing the title of the chart to Vocabulary of Emotions/Feelings.

Mad Sad Angry

Note that mad, sad, and angry are not in the body of the chart.

  • What do you do when you are mad?    Scream and yell.
  • What do you do when you are sad?     Cry.
  • What do you do when you are angry?    Strike out.

In contrast:

  • What do you do when you are bewildered or lonely or any of the other 480 words on this list?
    There isn’t an action associated with the emotion word, only attentiveness and reflection.

To me that proves that angry, sad, and mad might be avoided in favor of something more challenging.

The more clearly you understand yourself and your emotions, the more you become a lover of what is. —Baruch Spinoza

Active Listening Convention

This document is used on the Active Listening Convention page for responding using an agenda of intentions in listening.

The document is in the public domain. Feel free to use it under the Creative Commons attribution agreement that applies to everything on this site. I understand teachers of English in other countries find it helpful. Please pass it forward. Fair Use

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