It takes years to learn to recognize the feelings we have inside our bodies and how to safely react well to them. Even as adults we can feel new emotions and will have to figure out how to safely express what we are feeling. Emotions mature with age so it is important to talk about recognizing emotions early and often with children so you can help them learn what the emotion is, how they feel inside, and how to handle their feelings at home, school, and for the rest of their lives in a safe and appropriate manner. By valuing your children’s emotions, you are teaching them that their feelings matter.
Use the 10 ideas below to help children recognize their emotions and touch on these three key points no matter which idea you choose to teach:
Identify the emotion: Identify which emotion you would like to help your children learn more about: Happy, sad, mad, embarrassed, excited, etc.
Explain the emotion: Explain the emotion to your children. It’s important for children to understand that there isn’t a right or wrong way to feel. You can explain that they feel a certain way when they feel a certain emotion. For example, “If I am happy, I feel like smiling.”; “If I am sad, my smile turns upside down and I may feel like crying.”; “If I am embarrassed, I can feel my face get really hot and if I look in the mirror, my cheeks are usually bright pink which is called blushing.”; “If I am excited, I get butterflies in my tummy and can’t sit still.”
Teach how to express the emotion: Discuss with your children that there are right and wrong ways to express our emotions. By teaching them how to safely express themselves, you’re showing them how to handle conflicts, solve problems, and develop healthy peer relationships. Talk to your children about positive ways they can express what they are feeling. For example, if they are mad they might feel like running around the playground or taking deep breaths. Then discuss wrong ways that they might want to express the emotion such as throwing a toy.
1. Read a book together
Books are filled with a roller coaster of emotions. Characters can be happy on one page and sad on the next. Even books that you read as an adult are filled with emotions (think about it the next time you are deep into your novel). Check out Spencer’s Wondrous Wish, and talk about the different emotions the characters feel throughout the story. Ask your children if they have ever felt that emotion, how it made them feel on the inside, and how they chose to express the emotion.
2. Listen to music
Even if there aren’t any words, music can make us feel a certain way. Play samples of music and ask your children what emotion it sounds like—a lullaby might sound peaceful and a pop song might sound happy! Ask the children how each of these emotions feel in their body. Sweetwater Kids also has a great song called Happy, Sad, Scared, or Mad that helps children recognize how different emotions might feel in their body and the ways they might choose to respond to them. You could also sing If You’re Happy and You Know It and change up the emotion each verse. Let the children choose what to do for each emotion.
3. Draw a picture
Drawing is a great way for children to show how they are feeling if they can’t verbally explain the emotion. At a very young age, children know that when they draw a smiling face, that person is happy, but a frowning face means sad. Drawing is also a great way to safely deal with their feelings. A lot of famous artists use the emotions they are feeling to create exceptional pieces of art. Sometimes you may even feel the artist’s emotions when you look at the picture.
4. Act out emotions
Present different scenarios that your children can act out. Allow for more than one child to be involved in the scene at a time and gather some play props to help express emotions. As the children act out each scenario, have them express out loud how they would feel on the inside and what they would want to do to express the emotion. Examples of some scenarios children can act out are:
Someone takes your toy without asking
Today is your birthday and you're having a party with your friends
You fell down in front of your whole class at school
5. Talk about Feelings
It might not be an exciting conversation, but talking about how children might feel during an upcoming event may help them to recognize that feeling, gain a better understanding of what their body feels like inside, and how to safely express their emotions in the moment because you talked about it. Examples include:
You have to attend a funeral for someone in your family. Explain that being sad or angry is normal and that a lot of people will be crying. It is OK to cry or to be angry, but it is not OK to stomp around, yell or scream.
Your first soccer game is coming up. Explain that you might feel excited that you get to play in your first game. You might feel happy if you score a goal and win the game or you might feel sad if you lose. You might feel embarrassed if you kick the ball and fall down and you might be scared if a ball gets kick toward you. It is OK to feel any of these ways plus others before, during, or after the game. But it is not OK to be mean, yell, or scream. Instead, try to be a good sport and a good teammate.
6. Point out when others are showing an emotion
When you are out and about with your children, talk about the different emotions other people might be feeling that they see around them. If you witness another child screaming and yelling, maybe even throwing themselves on the floor, privately talk about it with your children to let them know that even though that child might be mad or sad, that expressing his emotions that way is not acceptable behavior. Ask them to share with you ways they could safely and appropriately express that emotion. Also point out times when you see another child smiling and having a good time. Ask your children what emotion they think the child is feeling and how she is choosing to express it.
7. Hands-on Activities—My Emotional Dial
Crafts are a great teaching tool. Grab your art supplies and have fun helping your child make their very own Emotional Dial:
You’ll need a paper plate, paper, crayons, scissors, glue, hole punch and a brass fastener (brad). Help your child make a circle on the paper plate and divide it into four sections. Have them write an emotion in each section such as happy, sad, scared, and mad then color or decorate each section. Next, help them cut an arrow out of a piece of paper. Insert the brad through the center of the arrow and then through the center of the plate so that it can spin and point to the different emotional sections. When you finish, ask your child to move the arrow to the emotion they are feeling. Ask why they are feeling that emotion, how it feels in their body, and what they want to do when they feel this way. Have fun exploring each of the emotions with them. This activity is also a good way to begin and end each day. Notice if their emotion in the morning differs from their emotion later in the day and discuss what events happened to cause the different feelings.
8. Watch kid-friendly shows/movies
Viewing others experiencing emotions can help children understand how they may feel inside and how to, or sometimes how not to, act to express that emotion. A lot of children’s shows have the characters running into a problem or needing help with something. There are typically a lot of emotions that you can talk about when those situations occur during the show. Use this time to not only enjoy the show or movie together but to also talk about what emotions the characters felt and how they expressed them.
9. Use your senses
Have fun exploring emotions using your five senses with these activities. Remember that there isn’t a right or wrong answer for these.
Sight: Point out different images and colors in a book or magazine and ask what emotion is felt when they look at each one. A bear might feel scary and a kitten might feel happy. Blue might feel sad and red could feel mad.
Sound: In addition to listening to different songs, have fun exploring the different emotions they feel when they hear every day sounds such as a car horn, the doorbell, a dog barking, birds chirping, or the phone ringing.
Smell: Take a walk through your house or outside and smell some different things. A mother’s perfume might make a child feel happy, or a stinky shoe might feel mad. The smell of rain might feel calm and fresh grass might feel exciting!
Taste: Different foods can represent different emotions too! Offer your children some foods to try and ask them what emotion they make them feel. For example, bananas might make them feel silly and pickles might make them feel irritated.
Touch: Give your children different textures and materials to touch and ask them what emotion they feel as they touch each one. Sandpaper might make them feel nervous and cotton might make them feel safe.
10. Be an emotion role model
Always think about how you are reacting to your emotions in front of children. If you are the type of person to yell when you get angry, then your children will see this reaction and may mimic it the next time they get mad. Instead, consider sharing with your child the emotion you are feeling, how it makes you feel on the inside, and how you can positively express it. You are their greatest role model and by doing this you will help them make sense of their feelings and learn to communicate them in a safe and effective way.
Have fun exploring emotions with your children! We'd love to hear some of the ways you've helped them recognize and manage their emotions.
About the Author: Christine Cox is a mom to two children, Capri and Cam. When she is not writing for Proudtree, you can find her over at www.thechoosymommy.com or www.choosykids.com. As a family, the Cox’s love to be outdoors, play and watch sports (Go Steelers, Penguins and Pirates!) and swim. In her free time, (haha, I know, what is free time?) Christine loves to do yoga and relax!