Column: Mixing words and emotions


A recent research article by a Purdue professor was titled, “Do some children really hear 30 million more words than others?” This word gap is prevalent in the lower socioeconomic community as children don’t have the benefit of parents who read to them or of attending a preschool where books are part of the daily routine.

Unfortunately, young children who are handed devices to amuse themselves may also be lacking in word exposure when they start school. The research shows that it’s not just saying words that supports their development but the interaction that comes from discussion with the child.

All of us thrive with positive reinforcement, hugs and approval, but children are especially sensitive because that’s how they learn to feel and express emotions. Genes are responsible for 30 to 60 percent of our emotionality, but the remainder comes from watching our parents and other adults. Our earliest memories may be a happy experience with a parent. That memory is carried with us and may be brought to the forefront when we are feeling unhappy. Children who have few happy experiences with adults are at a disadvantage because they have to rely on peers, media, the physical world and our culture to learn emotions and how to navigate them.

A new special edition of National Geographic, “Your Emotions, The Science of How You Feel,” explores the brain’s role in emotions. It describes empathy, compassion, happiness, gratitude, hope, fear, anger and anxiety and how they converge on our mind.

How we express these emotions varies from culture to culture. Americans are usually very open and effusive while other cultures may find incidents that make us happy to be offensive.

It’s a good feeling when we observe other’s happiness but even better when it’s our own. As Charles Schultz and Charlie Brown remind us, “The smile on my face doesn’t mean my life is perfect. It means I appreciate what I have been blessed with. I choose to be happy.”