Talking about feelings: young children's ability to express emotions

Child Abuse Negl. 1997 Dec;21(12):1221-33; discussion 1217-20. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(97)00097-5.


Objective: The aim is to establish which emotion-descriptive language is used by children at different ages.

Method: Fifty-six children (aged 5 to 11 years) were presented with a set of plastic playpeople. Scenarios were enacted using the toys to elicit emotion descriptive vocabulary in response to the interviewer's question: How do you think s/he feels about that? Eight adult subjects participated as a control.

Results: Children under the age of 8 years have a limited repertoire of labels to describe emotions. Even 11-year-olds are unable to produce vocabulary which expresses emotion concepts described by adults. The implications of our findings for child-police interviews are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic / methods*
  • Male
  • Play and Playthings
  • Vocabulary