Simple strategies for identifying and labeling feelings

Welcome to part two of Art as Therapy’s blog series on simple strategies for parents to help children express their emotions. Last month we talked about how children learn to identify, express, and manage their emotions through interactions with others, especially their parents. Sometimes part of the difficulty in expressing emotions is being unsure about what it is that we are feeling. Visual feelings tools can help us to identify our emotions, and to place them within the context of our experiences. Here are some more strategies to help you and your children to identify and label all different kinds of feelings in yourselves and in others:

Personalized feelings flash cards: An alternative to the white board is creating personalized flash cards. Spend some time brainstorming different feelings words with your child. Create a list together. Try to include at least two feelings that you like, and two that you don’t like as much. Then, cut cardstock into child-friendly sized cards. Work together to write one feelings word on each card, and to design a face or a symbol to represent this feeling. I made mine into bears, but why not try feelings cats? Or monsters? Make the cards into something that your child enjoys. Try adding magnets to the back – then your flash cards can live on the fridge. As different emotions appear throughout the day, ask your child to use the flash cards to show how they are feeling. You can help your child by identifying when and where these feelings come up, and how we know that we’re having them. The visual language of the feelings cards will help your child to process and store the valuable information that you are teaching them, and the presence of the cards will provide permission to think and talk about a whole healthy range of emotions at home.

Label emotions during everyday activities: Children have emotional radar. Think of the toddler in the grocery store who points and expresses concern for a crying baby further down the aisle. One of the ways that children learn to identify and regulate their emotions is by watching other people and categorizing the emotions that they sense around them. You can help your child in this process by labeling the emotions that you observe during everyday activities. When your toddler points to the crying baby, give them the language to describe what they observe. Help them to wonder about why the baby is crying – maybe he or she is hungry? If you have your feelings flash cards with you, help your child to select the most appropriate card to describe what’s happening.

That’s it for this week! See you again next week, but in the mean time, why not make some personalized feelings cards and practice using them!