Emotion Bridging Helps Toddlers Deal With Their Emotions

Two young children playing outside

A new study shows that emotion bridging can help toddlers express emotions in a healthy way.
Image: Shutterstock

According to Holly Brophy-Herb, a professor of early childhood development at Michigan State University, emotion bridging is an important tactic for helping toddlers learn to express and deal with their emotions instead of simply lashing out.

In a study featuring 89 toddlers aged 18 months to 2 years, they found that children whose mothers engaged in emotion bridging were less likely to act out and more likely to use simple vocabulary to express themselves. The study involved mothers sitting down with their children and reading a wordless picture book about a girl who loses and then finds her pet. On each page, the mothers were instructed to not only identify the emotions the character experiences, but to explain why she was experiencing them, and to relate that emotion to experiences the child had.

This action, called emotion bridging, can help young children make sense of their emotions and allows them to better express them, something which can be difficult for young children. When children can’t express themselves verbally, they often do so physically, which is frequently met with punishment. This results in a vicious cycle which can continue into adolescence and adulthood. If children learn how to express themselves verbally early on, though, they are less likely to act out, and more likely to develop greater expression skills over the course of their lives.

Brophy-Herb made sure to point out that emotion bridging is even more important for disadvantaged children, who generally have less parental contact and less education outside of school, due to parents being away for work or other reasons; so they benefit more from small conversations about emotion when the opportunity arises. This will help them stay out of trouble later in life, as other studies have shown that disadvantaged children, especially minority children, suffer from compounding problems throughout the education system, and their actions are more likely to be met with punishment even by well-meaning educators.


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