Code switching, or switching back and forth between languages, is very common among multilingual families, new studies also suggest it can influence emotional development among children.

"Over the past few years, there's been a steadily growing interest in the languages multilingual individuals use to express emotions," said Stephen Chen and Qing Zhou of the University of California, Berkeley.

It is known that language plays an essential role in developing a child’s emotions because it allows adults and children to articulate, conceal and discuss feelings. When a parent expresses his or her feelings it contributes to the growth of a child’s emotions. It also demonstrates to the child a model or guideline of how emotions can be articulated and controlled.

Research from linguistics reveal when an individual switches from one language to another, their emotions switches as well. Experts believe bilingual individuals may use a specific language to express specific emotions because that language may provide for a better cultural understanding. For instance, an individual who speaks Finnish may be more likely to use English to tell her children that he or she loves them because it is uncommon to explicitly express emotions in Finnish.

A language a parent chooses to use conveys a specific concept that assist in providing indications that may reveal his or her emotional states. It also may assist in influencing the children’s emotional experience.  Additionally, fluctuating between languages may help children control their emotional response by using less emotional, non-native language as a way to reduce negative stimulation or help model cultural specific emotional regulation.

Chen, Qing Zhou and Morgan Kennedy of Bard College all agree that a child’s emotional aptitude is essentially shaped by a multilingual environment. They also believe the data will be helpful for programs designed for immigrant families, assisting intervention staff to be cognizant of how the use of languages in various incidents can have an emotional impact.

"Our aim in writing this review was to highlight what we see as a rich new area of cross-disciplinary research," says Chen. "We're especially excited to see how the implications of emotion-related language switching can be explored beyond the parent-child dyad – for example, in marital interactions, or in the context of therapy and other interventions."

The study was published in Perspectives on Psychological Science