3 kid-friendly techniques for identifying feelings

Are you looking for ways to communicate with your child about feelings? Are you tired of getting the same, “I’m fine” or “I’m good” response day after day?  One of my favorite parts of being a child therapist is helping children learn how to identify and express their feelings. Teaching the “emotion alphabet” helps a child in many ways—it might improve their ability to use words when becoming frustrated, to regulate the way they feel or increase the chance that they can cope when life gets a little more stressful.

Much like learning to read and write or to add and subtract, children must learn how to name their feelings and manage them when they are more intense. Here are a few kid-friendly techniques for identifying feelings. This is only an introduction but provides a wonderful opening into discussing this subject with your children. 

Color your feelings.

Art helps children to explore their minds. While many have difficulty expressing feelings in words, children enjoy self-expression through drawing, collaging or painting the way they feel. Here’s an example of one of my favorites art activities for feeling expression.

What you’ll need:

  • Construction Paper
  • Markers
  • Paper Plates
  • Craft Sticks (Optional)
  • Googly Eyes (Optional)
  • Yarn (Optional)

What to do:

Decide what feelings you want to focus on. I like to start with “Happy,” “Sad,” “Angry,” and “Excited”. For older children, design masks for each of the feelings you’ve chosen. For younger children, choose just one feeling at a time. Make sure you both do the activity, and after each feeling, take a few minutes to talk about an example of when you each felt that way. If your child is struggling to think of an example, ask them when their closest friend felt that feeling or even when a character from their favorite TV show or movie experienced that feeling. Often, children have a much easier time understanding their own feelings when they can observe them in others.

Play Feelings Charades.

This is a fun game to play as a family. Find photos of faces depicting various feelings. I like to use magazines or Google image search to print out feeling faces. Once you have your feeling faces cut out and ready, put them in a bag or a hat, and have each family member choose a card one-by-one and act out the feeling. The other family members have to guess what feeling is being acted out. Children love to play this game and are always laughing hysterically by the end. Not only do they get to practice recognizing feelings in themselves but also learn how to observe those feelings in others.

Read a book with your child.

As I mentioned before, children may struggle to think of an example of when they experienced a specific feeling. I observe that children struggle even more with the intense feelings of anger, fear and sadness. Books are a wonderful resource to offer children examples of specific feelings and can normalize those feelings, as well. Be sure you don’t just read the book. Stop and ask your child questions along the way, like, “Ahn sure does look angry. Can you think of a time when you were that angry? I sure got angry when…” This will help your chid to make connections between the book's characters and their own feelings. 

Here are a few of my favorite books to help children learn about feelings. You can click on the links below if you are interested in adding them to your collection.

I hope that you are able to utilize these kid-friendly techniques to help your children learn more about their feelings. Keep me posted—I would love to hear how you adapt them to meet the needs of your children, as well!