To be human is to experience emotions. Sometimes these emotions are positive such as feeling happy, excited, elated or joyous and sometimes the emotions are negative such as feeling sad, lonely or jealous.
For most of us, we experience a whole spectrum of emotions over our lifetime, and whether the emotion is a positive one or a negative one – they come and go in duration and in intensity.
Helping young children to name the emotion they are feeling, goes a long way towards dealing with the emotion. For example, if we feel really excited, it is common to raise our arms above our heads, or raise from sitting to standing, or jump up and down – just think about how a crowd at a sporting event reacts when their team kicks a winning goal, or hits a winning run – the crowd literally erupts with excitement.
Similarly, if we are feeling sad, we might cry, sob, want to be alone or sometimes we want to have a connection with others – another person, a pet or a soft toy – by way or a cuddle or a hug.
As I write this, we are in the middle of the Covid19 crisis which is stressful for us all. Whilst young children do not need to experience the stressors of adulthood, they never the less are often aware of them, so it is important to discuss how we are feeling within boundaries – to name the emotions we might be feeling, but also to reassure children that “this too will pass” and that we are hopeful. Things may need to change – with our routines, employment, where we live and how we learn – but for most negatives we can also find a positive.
Not being able to attend school may make a child feel sad or lonely because they can’t see their friends – but hey, it means that is completely fine to do schoolwork in your pj’s!
The Drawing Feeling Faces activity helps children to understand that we can all experience emotions differently.
Why not try to make a list of every feeling your child can think of and then discuss how our facial expressions and body language changes with each emotion – start off with simple emotions which have dramatic variations in body language to make it easier for young children to identify.
Be a good role model and label your feelings throughout the day, and bring your child’s attention to your face and body language. You can also bring their awareness to their own emotions – using a mirror can help here and it can also help to diffuse strong emotion when we see how funny we can look when our faces/body are distorted by strong emotions.
For older children, help them to understand the slight nuances between emotions and the sliding scale – we don’t usually flip from calm to full on rage – there are usually a few stepping stones in between – annoyance – frustration – anger – rage. If we can identify the stages and ranges of emotion, quite often we can diffuse situations from escalating by responding to warning signs earlier.
Children can draw their feelings using emojies, or by using general artwork – choosing materials and colours as appropriate. However, some children will find it easier to identify how they are feeling by looking at realistic images of children experiencing different emotions. The How Are You Feeling Today? pack provides educators and parents with a selection of 6 different simple emotions to choose from and a laminated Thermometer for children to colour in to indicate the intensity of the emotion. If a child colours the thermometer all the way up to RED, then it might be an idea to have a chat about the feeling and then to revisit the thermometer later in the day, or the next, day – rub it out and re-colour it. Hopefully, the intensity of the emotion has diminished. In this way, children have a concrete tool which helps them to understand that both positive and negative emotions are completely normal, and that they BOTH come and go in duration and in intensity.
This activity is a lovely way to focus on the positive qualities our families and friends have. You could make each member of the family or class the star for the week and all the leaves on the tree are about the wonderful qualities that person has. At the end of the week, all the leaves could be pasted into a special book for that person to keep. Then on days when we feel like the whole world is against us, or if we are feeling a little bit down, we can pull out our Friendly tree book and re-read all of the lovely comments others said about us – sure to lift anyone’s mood!
How many emotions could your child name? Post a comment with your list.