Helping Kids to Recognize Different Feelings

Have you ever “lost your cool” before you even had a chance to recognize those unpleasant feelings bubbling up? Pausing and assessing how we might be feeling brings us a step closer to being able to handle those emotions in healthy ways, (E.g. I’m feeling very frustrated right now, I’m going to take 3 deep breaths and walk away).

Although this can be a tricky skill even for adults to learn, we often expect our children to be able to handle big emotions or may become frustrated when they are having a hard time doing so. Before your child can learn to handle big emotions, they need to be able to recognize and label different emotions and how they feel in their bodies. Listed below are some practice activities you can do with your child to practice these foundational skills that help them get along with peers and learn to handle feelings in helpful ways.

Reading with your child is an excellent opportunity to practice observing how characters are feeling. Once your child is able to identify how the characters are feeling, then you can expand the conversation, practice making feelings faces with your child and discuss what it feels like in our body when we are having that emotion. Don’t worry if your child doesn’t automatically know the answers, you can tailor this activity to meet your child where they are in their emotional development and with practice they will be ready to move on to the more complex steps.

    • Label the characters’ facial expressions or body language and ask your child what they notice (try to be as specific as possible).

“I noticed that this character has their arms crossed, their eyebrows are bunched together and they are pouting their lips.”

    • Practice displaying different emotions with your child. Have them show you what different emotions look like. (An option is to do this in front of a mirror so your child can see themselves displaying different emotions).
    • Ask your child how they think the character is feeling, what in the story lead to the character feeling this way? Ask your child how they might feel in this situation. Talk about different scenarios that might lead your child to feel that way.

“How do you think the princess is feeling? Why do you think she looks sad? That’s right, because no one came to her birthday party. How would you feel if no one came to your birthday party? Do you remember a time when you felt sad?”

    • Discuss what different feelings may feel like in our bodies.

“When I feel sad my throat feels tight and my heart feels heavy and I can feel tears in my eyes. How do you feel when you are sad?”

Check out this blog for more details on how to use books to teach your children social emotional skills.

Watching television together is another way to practice these skills. There are benefits to watching tv with your child, like spending time together and engaging in something they enjoy doing, so why not take this opportunity to talk about feelings? Just like you would with reading together you can label, ask questions, discuss and practice different emotions that the characters are feeling. If you are finding it tricky to talk to your child while the show is on, wait to practice during a commercial break or in between episodes. Remember not to force the conversation, even the exposure of labeling how characters are feeling is a step in the right direction!

Check out the PBS website for some examples of shows that help children explore feelings and emotions!

Drawing with your child can also be a practice opportunity. You can first start by drawing simple faces displaying emotions (it’s okay if you don’t consider yourself an artist). Ask your child to identify what emotions you have drawn and have them point to the specific features that helped them come to that conclusion.  Then switch roles and guess your child’s drawing!

People watching is a fun way to practice in a real-life situation! People out in the wild may be harder to read than actors on tv or drawings in a book, especially now that most of us are wearing masks. Next time you are out on a walk or at the mall or wherever other people may be, take a moment to observe with your child how others may be feeling.

“I notice that child is running around waving their hands in the air! How do you think they might be feeling? I agree! They look really excited. I wonder what has made them so excited? What does your body do when you feel excited?”

Bonus activity: People watching can be turned into a fun scavenger hunt! Before leaving the house decide with your child what you will be looking for when you are at the store. Maybe you want to find one sad person, one angry person and one happy person! Then be on the lookout while you are shopping.

In a future blog we will discuss some strategies your child can use to handle big emotions and, in the meantime, keep practicing, discussing and having fun!


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Text: © Kids In Transition to School 2022

Image: © Photographerlondon |


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