How To Talk To Kids About Big Feelings

The children I saw at the Women’s March in Washington DC filled me with big feelings of gratitude.

They were witnessing and expressing huge emotions with power and compassion.  Some had megaphones, some had signs, some had big voices, and some were just powerfully present, balanced on their parent’s shoulders.  

But what happens today and then next day when our kids feel things deeply and there is no megaphone or march to release through?

There are a lot of big feelings happening across our nation and world right now.   

It is essential that we give our kids some tools to be able to express themselves.  This week’s game allows children to separate themselves from their worry and lets them talk about their feelings simply by talking TO their feelings.  

Talk to your Feelings

“Hello, hello, Worry, yeah, ummmm.  Please don’t be so loud. Thanks.” – Nathaniel, age 4

It can be a revelation for kids (and adults) to realize that:

1. We are not our feelings.

2. Emotions are controlled in the brain.

3. By simply identifying feelings we can get get some calm and happiness where otherwise we were anxious.

4. There are playful games you can do to release feelings and help kids communicate their emotions.

Identify Feelings

The brilliant Pixar film, Inside Out, made it simple and beautiful for children to understand and distinguish feelings.

Joy, Anger, Sadness, Disgust and Fear became actual characters in the mind of young Riley.   In the final credits we see these prototype-emotions in different characters from bullies to dogs, and it helped further emphasize that feelings exist in everyone, and they live in our brains.

When kids have skills in their back-pocket that help them identify and express their feelings, they are able to boost their Emotional Intelligence.  Adapted from the more commonly known term, ‘IQ’, EQ is the ability to understand, empathize and communicate with people.  It is largely considered paramount (even to IQ) in attaining successful life outcomes, such as happiness in career and relationships.*

Play Body Phone

I’ve been developing this as a tool in my own house.   My son now likes to “dial in” to his own brain when he is feeling anxiety: (There’s a substitute teacher I don’t know!  Ack, a very big dog is coming toward me!  I can’t ride this bike!).  I also try to help to give him perspective on his nerves by asking his Worry Brain questions.

  • Identify the strong emotion that your child is feeling.
  • Have them call it on their imaginary phone.   “Hello Fear. What are you so worked up about?”
  • You can also call into their emotion as well and let them role-play as their emotions.  “Ring, ring.  Hello, excuse me, is sadness there? Can I speak with sadness please?  I’d love to know what brought you out so loudly today?”
  • Use playful parts of the body to call into the emotions.  Sometimes I use my foot as if it is a phone!
  • If they aren’t feeling well they can also call into their body – talk to tummy or skinned knee in the same way and get it to calm down and explain what happened (we ate too much popcorn, or we were running so fast)
  • Once your child has articulated what’s going on (either by talking to the emotion or as the emotion), they can “hang up” and feel good about their new perspective.  You and they will now have a better grasp on what they are feeling.    

“Rather than addressing your child by asking, ‘Why are you worrying?,’ pin the problem on the problem: Worry is playing tricks making things feel dangerous that are really safe.” Writes Dr. Tamar E. Chansky in her book, Freeing Your Child From Anxiety.  She suggests that parents help their children ask questions to get at the root of the worry and shine a light on what’s really going on.  “What is worry telling you about this? What do you think is true? Does that sound right to you? Do you think that’s really going to happen or is it just scary to hear that idea?”

Other questions that, when playfully posed to your child, can help them get distance from their fear:

  • Is that you or your Worry talking?
  • Do you think that Worry is being a little loud in your brain?
  • Do you think that Worry is right?

With the game “Body Phone” you can of course dial in to other emotions.  I also even use it to talk to parts of the body too – like if Nathaniel has a stomach ache!  It gives kids a little distance on their feelings and sensations and they (and you) can talk more freely.  

Last summer I ran a camp where we worked on these core emotions, singing songs, playing games and connecting the feelings with characters.  Kids were able to practice perspective-taking and got a birds-eye-view on their own brain!  Here are some other tools you can use for your home or classroom to allow kids to express themselves.

Play Emotion Name Game

Circle time with kids in theater class with Child's Play NY

In our welcome circle in Child’s Play NY on the first day of a new class, we always start by identifying different feelings that kids could be experiencing.  

They might be Shy, Anxious, Excited, Brave.  We say “Hi” together as these different emotions.  After that, kids go around the circle individually and say their own name, and make a gesture, using any of the feelings we had explored collectively, or coming up with their own.  After they say their name and match it with a gesture, the group copies the move.

This exercise, while seemingly simple, operates on so many levels that helps kids with social skills and their emotional intelligence.  It helps kids pay attention, not just to how they are feeling, but also to how their peers are feeling.  Having their emotion reflected back at them is very validating.  It also helps the kids recognize the tone of their peers might be feeling sad, or grumpy, without them having to use words.  They just express it on their name.

You can play this one-on-one too by simply saying your name and coloring it with different emotions.  Kids can guess what you are feeling by your tone-of-voice and body language.  

Play with Feelings Flashcards or make your own.

When you have lots of words, it is easier to identify what’s going on.  The more nuanced language is surrounding feelings, the better equipped your child will be to articulate to you – and to themselves – what they are going through.

Get this cool version of Feelings Flashcards

or make your own…

  • Using markers and index cards.
  • By getting a polaroid camera.  Take pictures of you and your family with different feelings and  write the feeling on the back of the photo.
  • By creating a giant versions of faces with the Melissa and Doug Make a Face Pad.

Understand How the Brain Works

When kids can identify where their emotions are coming from, they are more empowered to redirect anxiety.  

I love the MindUp curriculum and their particular map of the brain!  MindUp was created by mental health professionals at the Columbia University’s Center for New Media Teaching and Learning and supported by the Hawn Foundation.  It is a research-based curriculum to help kids build resilience to stress and a positive mind-set, among other amazing things!

It provides parents and teachers with beautiful methodology to teach kids about mindfulness.  Their easy-to-use diagrams of the brain and graspable metaphors are incredibly helpful.  Elementary aged kids can really benefit from knowing about the centers of the brain.  It is truly empowering to kids to learn words like “amygdala”, “hippocampus” and “prefrontal cortex”.  Learn about it with your kids and it will be easier to identify what’s happening and why when your child is feeling big feelings!

Release the Feelings

If kids really want to express themselves but aren’t sure where to start, a great way in is through an animal character.   

  • Use Animal Yoga to let out big emotions through body and sound

  • Practice breathing like an animal by doing Lion’s Breath and have them come up with their own creative animal breath. This can serve to release, but also to calm.

Tell me how you connect with your children about their big feelings.  Let’s give them creative ways to express their emotions and find their voices!

With Love,

Jocelyn

References

*Michael Akers & Grover Porter. (2016). What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 20, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-emotional-intelligence-eq/

*Chansky, T. E. (2004). Freeing your child from anxiety: powerful, practical strategies to overcome your child’s fears, phobias, and worries. New York: Broadway Books.

Get My Rainy Day Game List.

 

This is pretty much all you will ever need if you are stuck indoors with your kids. 

 

 

kids laughing while playing a storytelling game to practice listening

Thank you!
  Click Here To Get Your Rainy Day Guide.   Looking forward to connecting with you soon!