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How An Emotions Chart Helps Children Understand Their Feelings

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Trying to get your child to tell you how they feel is no easy feat, especially if they can’t formulate the right words to tell you themselves. Young children feel emotions just as intensely as adults do. While sometimes their emotions can be seen on their face (e.g. joy, sadness, frustration), the main difference is that they don’t yet have the cognitive reasoning or language skills to communicate to others why they are feeling that way.  

So, what can parents do to help their child understand their emotions better? Below, we’ll discuss how parents could use an emotions chart for kids to develop children’s social-emotional skills. 

Understanding How They Feel: How an Emotions Chart Can Help kids

An emotions or feelings chart for kids is a visual representation of each emotion that your child can feel daily. It can either be a color wheel that is separated into various categories or it can be a chart that shows facial expressions which represent various feelings. 

These visual aids can be found in several variations but the end goal is the same: to help children accurately communicate how they are feeling. 

One of the most popular emotion charts for kids, The Feeling Wheel, was developed by Dr. Gloria Willcox in the early 1980s. It is composed of an inner circle that is split into six primary feelings: mad, sad, scared, peaceful, and joy. Radiating out from these are secondary feelings that relate to the six primary emotions. Dr. Willcox matched each primary emotion with a primary and secondary color to make it easier for people to relate to. 

For example, the emotion of sadness is matched with the color purple. Any secondary feelings that relate to sadness such as loneliness, or boredom are colored in lighter hues of purple. The same applies to the rest of the emotions featured in the chart.

As emotions are highly complex concepts for young children to fully understand, associating them with a concept that they do know (e.g. colors), helps them to not only identify their feelings but also gives them the tools they need to communicate and manage their emotions better. 

Top Tips for Talking About Feelings at Home: How Parents Can Use an Emotions Chart

Using an emotions chart with your kids is more important than ever before. The last year has been full of so much change and uncertainty that it has caused anxiety levels among children to rise dramatically. This is not surprising, especially seeing as how children’s daily routines were severely disrupted as a result of child care centers and schools closing down. 

A study in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing found that 91.9% of participants experienced an impact on their lifestyle as a result of the pandemic specifically in terms of eating habits, sleep patterns, and emotions. 

Below are tips for how you can utilize a feelings chart when discussing emotions with your child at home. 

1. Create a Safe Space to Talk About Emotions

It is important that you not only hang up the feelings chart in a place that is easily visible but also, one that is comforting and feels safe. Managing and talking about emotions can be a little scary for some children. To help your child feel more comfortable with the concept of emotions, fill that space with cozy items such as a warm blanket and some of their favorite stuffed animals. 

You want your child to feel safe communicating to you how they feel. By making this learning experience as positive and supportive as possible, it will teach them that emotions are not something to be afraid of. 

2. Use the Feelings Chart Only When They Are Calm

Asking your child to identify their emotions when they are in the middle of a nuclear meltdown is a very bad idea. Until your young child can learn how to identify and manage their feelings better, it is normal that their knee-jerk response will be to act out (e.g. scream, cry, etc). 

Instead, parents should focus on identifying the emotion for their child and then wait until the emotion has passed. For example, you could say “I can see that you are feeling very frustrated right now.” This will let your child know that you acknowledge the primary emotion that they’re feeling at that moment. 

Once they are feeling better, show them to the feelings chart and guide them through the emotion – your child will be able to process what you are showing them when the emotion no longer feels overwhelming. 

3. Focus on All Emotions – Not Just The Negative Ones

As parents, we can tend to focus more on our child’s negative emotions instead of noticing their positive ones. For your child to truly develop great social-emotional skills, you need to give equal attention to both positive and negative feelings. 

When using the emotions chart, guide your child through every single emotion from happy to sad. Explain to them what each emotion means and the physical sensations they might have with that feeling. When they’re happy, you might say something like “When I feel happy, I get a huge smile on my face and like to dance around to share the joy.” Then ask them what happiness feels like for them. 

Expressing Freely: What Changes You Can Expect to See in Your Child 

Helping your child to express themselves more freely will not happen overnight. However, by using a kids’ feelings chart you will notice over time that your child can reflect on their emotions and communicate them to you more clearly. Additionally, as they become more comfortable with the concepts of emotions, they will be able to cope with them better and identify how others are feeling too. 

At Vivvi, social and emotional development is a core part of our early learning program. Our expert childhood educators incorporate activities and exercises that focus on helping your child to understand and express their emotions in a safe environment. Our inquiry-based learning model is suitable for ages six weeks to kindergarten age. 
For more information about our early learning center or to organize a virtual tour of our campuses, get in touch with the Vivvi team today.

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