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Helping Children with Their Feelings
Activities & Games for All Kinds of Kids
By Elizabeth Crary, Carolyn J. Threadgill
Parenting Press, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Elizabeth Crary
All rights reserved.
What Feelings Look Like
Feelings are our reactions to things that happen to us or around us. Some are physical sensations, such as the pain of a cut finger, hunger, or the need to go to the bathroom. Others are concerned with emotions, or feelings of the heart, as we might say. Emotions also produce physical sensations, which children can learn to identify. This book focuses on emotional feelings. One of our jobs is to help children notice feelings in themselves and other people.
Why emotions are important
Most babies arrive ready to connect and relate emotionally to their devoted caregivers. They feel pleasure from the intense interest their parents show them. They pay attention to these fascinating beings who make them feel good by caressing them, cooing at them, making faces at them. Soon they are laughing and cooing and wiggling in response. Then they learn how to initiate the marvelous routine themselves. Thus begins the give and take of communicating emotionally. Eye contact between baby and caregiver is an important vehicle for this communication. When that is absent, it is harder for babies to learn.
If your baby is visually impaired
She will become very quiet and still when she hears you. She is at full attention.
Your voice is the most important sound to her — sing to her, talk to her, describe what you see and what you're doing and how you feel about everything.
Hold and carry her — Skin contact and movement are very important.
Use the same soap, shampoo, and other scents every day so that she does not get confused as to who you are.
Describe her actions and expressions and feelings to her by telling her what you see. "I see your mouth smiling. You are happy," or "I see your face frowning. You are uncomfortable."
Always remember that your baby needs to hear or feel you when you are with her.
People of all ages, including babies, use emotions to help them solve problems, that is, to get what they need or want. Emotions also compel us to give of ourselves to others in thoughtful ways. That is because emotions (including empathy) are the gateway to logical thinking, which helps us decide what we want to do.
Carson, age 2, has a nightmare and wakes up scared. His body is tense, his heart is pounding, he is crying. He jumps off his bed and goes in search of his parents. He knows from experience that they will hold and soothe him, and then he will feel safe.
From feeling to logical problem solving
Dr. Stanley Greenspan connects emotions and logical thinking. Being able to think logically is necessary for children to get along socially in all areas of their lives. Emotions, he says, are the basis for developing logical thought and social skills. These get us what we need and want throughout life. Children must have many experiences with other people to figure out how to go from feelings to logical action. Because children develop at different rates in sensing and using emotions to guide their thinking, some are more adept than others at recognizing feelings and solving social problems at any given time.
Isabella, age 6, learns that her friend has become very ill. She cares for her friend and feels a desire to do something "nice," as she has seen her parents do in such situations. Isabella gets out her rubber band bracelet kit and makes two colorful bracelets, wraps them up, and goes with her father to take the present to her friend.
Some children need extra help
Many young children need a boost in recognizing their emotions before they are able to use them in making decisions about how to act in social situations. Children who have special needs will need extra help (life experience and skills practice) in making the connection between their emotions and behavior and then to their words. Parents and other caregivers can help this process along in several ways.
Activities to help children recognize emotions
Look at me! Copy my face
The adult makes faces for the child to copy and names the emotion. Start with happy, sad, and angry; incorporate other emotions as the child is ready. Use a mirror if your child prefers it.
Look at you! I copy your face
The child makes faces and the adult copies the face. The adult supplies the word for the face (whatever you think it is) for the child to hear. For example, "I am copying your face. You are smiling. We are both happy [show big smile]."
Older siblings may like to get in on the game of copying faces. Not only can they copy a face, they can provide new faces for the learner to copy. Joining the games provides warm emotional connection between siblings as well.
Match the photo
Take several pictures of the child with different facial expressions — happy, sad, mad, excited. Sit the child in front of a mirror and hold a "feeling picture" up beside him. Ask the child to copy the expression in the picture. This may work well with a child who prefers not to look directly at people's faces.
Sit or stand in front of a mirror and make faces for each other to copy. This game may also work well with a child who prefers not to look directly at your face.
Children's board books of photos of babies' faces
Look at board books together and copy the faces. Talk about the faces and ask your child what he thinks the babies are feeling. If you have a sensory overloaded child, you can take a leisurely pace to allow him more time to look and think.
Researchers showed that when given enough time with an image, children with autism are just as accurate in their reading of emotions as neurotypical children of the same developmental age. They also found that slowing down spoken language enabled children with autism to understand better what was said or asked of them. (B. Gepner and F. Féron, "Autism: A World Changing Too Fast for a Mis-Wired Brain?" Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 33, no. 8 (September 2009): 1227-42)
Feeling Elf Cards & Games by Elizabeth Crary and Peaco Todd are easy to handle and may appeal to children who prefer not to look directly at faces, or who like objects better than faces. The cartoon elf is engaging and expressive. Here are four games perfect for beginners.
Make an elf face
Mimic the elf face on the card you chose.
Where is that elf?
Match pairs of elves showing the same feeling. Start with one pair of feeling elves, talking about how the elves feel the "same way." Do the same with other pairs. When the child grasps the concept of "same," then take four cards (two pairs) and ask the child to match each feeling elf with its mate. Increase the number of cards in use as the child is able.
Find the elf twins
Decide if the elf feelings shown are the same or different. Pick two elf cards with the same feeling and one with a different feeling. Place them face up together and ask the child to pick the two cards that show the same feeling.
How does your body feel?
This activity (that does not use elf cards) is most successful when a child has calmed down from an emotional upset. Ask him how his body feels when he is upset. Be prepared to offer some suggestions such as: skin's hot, head aches, stomach hurts, eyes want to cry, face burns, can't breathe, chest hurts, want to scream, and so on. Ask him how his body feels now that he is calm: perhaps relaxed, breathing slowly, cool, quiet. Point out that feelings change, an important concept.
Feelings skills goals
Feelings are okay
Everyone has feelings
Feelings vary from person to person
Can describe feelings inside one's body
Your goal is to help your child notice feelings in herself and other people, the first step in being able to identify and use feelings in her quest for social success: getting along with others, understanding herself and others, and sizing up situations and knowing how to act appropriately. Provide as many opportunities for her to interact with you and other people as your time and her personality allow. She cannot learn these skills by herself!
Chapter two tackles the task of helping children recognize and name their feelings, another step in communicating emotions.CHAPTER 2
Feelings Have Names
Close on the heels of recognizing emotions comes the naming of them. Lucky babies whose parents and caregivers have been talking to them since birth about feelings will quickly associate the feelings they have with the words provided.
It is always helpful to begin introducing concepts you want your child to use six months to a year before you expect your child to be able to use them. Recall that children don't generally begin to talk much until they are more than a year old, but they have been listening to language and laying the groundwork in their brains for language since they were born. Learning about feelings follows a similar path.
For information on child development, both timing and sequence of abilities, check out Helen F. Neville's book, Is This a Phase? Child Development & Parent Strategies, Birth to 6 Years.
A general rule of thumb is that children who have been introduced to the vocabulary of emotions from birth can identify and label a few feelings at 20 months of age ("I mad," I happy"). Other children without such coaching may be two to three and a half years old before they can do so. So much depends on what the child has been exposed to.
Children need a variety of feeling words
The English language has hundreds of words to describe feelings. Some feelings are comfortable, some uncomfortable. Some are intense and others mild. Children need many types of words to express all their feelings and to understand others.
Comfortable and uncomfortable feelings. Most of the parents I work with unconsciously focus on uncomfortable feelings. For example, when asked to list as many feeling words as they can, two thirds to three quarters of the feelings listed are uncomfortable words. Parents find that when they deliberately look for and pay more attention to comfortable feelings, their children display more comfortable feelings.
Uncomfortable words: frustrated, unhappy, disappointed, sad, angry, scared, etc.
Comfortable words: contented, mellow, pleased, helpful, cooperative, interested, curious, silly, proud, etc.
Children need words for comfortable feelings as well as uncomfortable feelings.
Feelings gradations. Many people tend to notice feelings when they are strong — angry, excited, scared, anxious, etc. However, it is easier to deal with feelings when they are mild. Children will need the vocabulary and understanding of gradations if they are to control their reactions and respond appropriately to others around them. Here is a small list of four emotions with three words each to show gradations of feelings.
Contented, happy, ecstatic
Sad, depressed, devastated
Annoyed, angry, furious
Worried, scared, terrified
Of course, you can't teach a child several hundred words all at once, and that isn't necessary. But everyone needs a basic vocabulary to start with and build upon. Most people tend to use only a few feeling words, so it helps to be deliberate about increasing your feelings vocabulary when you are working with children.
Social interaction, the best learning environment
All children, regardless of their particular attributes and abilities, need context in which to learn about feelings and what they are called. So, again, the more social experiences you can provide for your child, the more easily and quickly he will learn about emotional communication and connectedness. For some children you will need to provide years of social interaction with consistent comment and redirection when the child's interpretations and actions go awry.
Temple Grandin, Ph.D., points out that as an autistic child she derived pleasure and the motivation to become connected by the social activities and shared interests between herself and other children. They didn't start out with any great affection for each other, but they sure had a lot of fun flying kites and building things, and looked forward to these activities. Dr. Grandin emphasizes that being put into social situations constantly gave her the practice she needed to slowly gain skills. She urges giving every child the chance to develop the skills to "read" emotions whether they feel them themselves to any great extent or not.
Names for feelings help kids deal with feelings
Children who can name feelings are more successful in getting their needs understood and met. For the child who has sensory sensitivities, problem solving can begin when he says, "The light hurts my eyes," or "The lumps in that food feel awful in my mouth," or "The seams in these socks bother my feet," or "I feel like I'm going to explode!"
Children who can name feelings are also better at dealing with them. (It's sort of like having a name for an illness: you feel a little more in control if you know what it's called.) Often doing nothing more than acknowledging the feeling, either the child herself or an adult on her behalf, will defuse a situation or calm a child because it diverts her attention (changes her focus).
Ben, age 5, is going to start martial arts class. He appears reluctant at the dojo and finally confides to his dad that he feels scared and doesn't want to look dumb in front of other kids. Fortunately, the director knows that children often feel this way, and he has already arranged for Ben's first lesson to be an individual one. Ben is hugely relieved and participates enthusiastically.
Activities to help young children label feelings
Here are some engaging resources for the naming of feelings. These books and games are used by many parents, as well as professionals working with children. It does not matter how old your child is: if you think the resource will work and be enjoyed, use it with your child, whether he is 18 months or eight years.
The Way I Feel by Janan Cain is a picture book that displays thirteen emotions, such as happy, angry, disappointed, shy, in vivid illustration and simple, realistic rhyme. A favorite of children all over the world, this book gets to the heart of each feeling. It is also easier for some children to look at these illustrations than it is for them to look at real faces.
How to present The Way I Feel and other books. Look at the pictures with your child, going at his pace. Ask your child if he can name the feeling in the illustration. Read the story or poem that accompanies each picture. Let your child copy the character's expressions and action. Don't be surprised if your child asks for this book often. It not only teaches language for feelings but has a surprising ability to help children deal with their feelings.
When two and a half-year-old Tim came to live with his grandmother, she gave him a copy of The Way I Feel. Tim asked for the book every day for the next two months. He would sit in his grandmother's lap while they read and looked at the pictures. Each time they came to the illustration and poem for Angry, Tim jumped to the floor and stomped his feet. "I tomping, I tomping!" he exclaimed. It took a while for him to switch to "I'm angry!", but there was no doubt what he was expressing.
If this book suffers from over-enthusiastic treatment, you can cut it apart and laminate each two-page illustration, as the teachers of a child without language did. Though the child could not tell them what he liked about the book, he spent part of every day patting or slapping the pictures. Another child with autism learned to recognize feelings as he used the book.
Joey, age 2.5, did not relate emotionally to his family. They purchased a copy of The Way I Feel and everyone in the family took turns reading it to him over many months. After a while they began to notice that he was responding to them and showed evidence that he understood when someone was happy or angry or sad, etc. This was a thrilling accomplishment for the whole family.
Feeling Elf Cards & Games that you met in chapter one contain more games to continue learning about feelings. The twenty elves display a wide range of feelings, so that children learn to recognize gradations and what they are called.
Gradations of feelings
Choose the nine cards that reflect three gradations of feelings. These are worried/scared/terrified; pleased/happy/excited; and annoyed/angry/furious. Place one set face up on the table and ask your child to point to the strongest or most intense feeling. Do the same for the other sets. Ask your child to put each set in order from less intense feeling to most intense feeling.
Ask your child to tell you how her body feels during a particular emotion and how it feels different for each intensity.
Feelings for Little Children series, comprised of four titles:
When You're Happy and You Know It
When You're Mad and You Know It
When You're Silly and You Know It
When You're Shy and You Know It
Excerpted from Helping Children with Their Feelings by Elizabeth Crary, Carolyn J. Threadgill. Copyright © 2014 Elizabeth Crary. Excerpted by permission of Parenting Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 | What Feelings Look Like,
Chapter 2 | Feelings Have Names,
Chapter 3 | How to Calm Intense Feelings,
Chapter 4 | Feelings Lead to Actions,