6 Ways to Use Feeling Charts to Help Build Children’s Emotional Intelligence

I love using feeling charts with my therapy clients. For almost every kind of presenting issue, some kind of emotion chart will usually make an appearance within the first session or two when I am working with a child. Using this tool helps me assess and improve a child’s emotional awareness and vocabulary, which are important aspects of a child’s ability to express emotions in healthy ways. These tools also help teach children how to recognize the emotions that other people may be demonstrating toward them.

The ability to express and recognize emotions are part of what makes up the characteristic known as Emotional Intelligence or EQ. The Institute for Health and Human Potential defines emotional intelligence as the ability to:

    • Recognize, understand and manage our own emotions
    • Recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others
Emotional intelligence matters. When we are able to recognize and understand what we are feeling, then we are able to use those emotions in an effective way.
We are able to cope with strong emotions that we might have. We are able to recognize and empathize with emotions in others. We are able to choose effective strategies for dealing with emotions, all of which helps us to build and maintain strong relationships with others. EQ affects our ability to succeed on the playground, all the way up to the boardroom or workplace. We are relational creatures, so it’s hard to overestimate how important it is to develop this skill in the children we help.

With all that in mind, today I want to share 6 different ways that you can use feeling charts in the therapy room, a classroom, or in the home to help build a child’s emotional intelligence.

Use your emotion charts:

1) As a check-in

Pull out your chart at the start of each session, class, or day and have the child identify all of the feelings that she is experiencing at the moment. Encourage her to talk about what that feeling feels like in her body – in her stomach, in her chest, in her hands, in her legs, in her head, all to help her recognize that feelings are associated with physical sensations in the body. You can make this check-in process more fun by having bright and colourful feeling charts, which you can make, download, or purchase with just a quick Google search. I recently wrote a blog post about creating large feeling faces that can be hung on the wall as decoration, and then used for check-ins. You can find that post and that activity here.

2) With games:

Keep your chart close by and adapt your games to include a feeling component. Playing Candyland? Match each colour up with a feeling and have the child tell about a time he felt that way.

Snakes and ladders? Pick a pleasant emotion off the chart to talk about when you go up a ladder and an unpleasant emotion to talk about when you go down a snake. Checkers? Upcycle your board with some feeling faces (download our board here). When a child lands on that space, tell about a time when that child felt that way. Or pick an emotion to talk about whenever the child jumps over the opponent’s piece. Jenga? Write a feeling word on each piece. When that piece is pulled out, find the corresponding emotion on the feeling chart and talk about this feeling. Our previous blog post showed a variation on the game Memory called Feeling Match-Up, which you can find here. By using these kinds of activities, you are encouraging the child to express emotions healthfully and you are also assessing the range of emotions that the child can identify in herself and others.

3) With expressive play:

Keep your feelings chart on hand as the child plays in the sandtray or with the dollhouse. As the various characters interact, ask the child how each character feels with or about the other characters. How does the little sheep feel when the wolf is nearby? How does the baby feel when the Daddy doll leaves the house for work? What does the little sister doll do that makes the little boy angry? And so on. The child can refer to the feeling chart if it seems that she is struggling with coming up with emotion words.

4) In Role Play:

Pick some scenarios that a child might experience or that you know the child may have struggled with in the past. Have the child pick out a feeling face off the feeling chart that represents how she might feel or has felt in that situation. Have the child act out the scenario with you, demonstrating the appropriate emotions, and perhaps trying out different solutions that might cause her to experience a different emotion. Alternatively, you can use a toy microphone to interview the child about the experience, her feelings, and how she would like to feel.

5) As Flash Cards:

Use a feeling chart either with cartoon faces or with real images to make flash cards to help the child practice identifying emotions. Practice flipping through the cards to see how quickly the child can identify each of the feelings. If the goal is to improve emotional recognition and vocabulary, the child and therapist (or teacher) can play every few sessions in order to let the child compete against herself to see how many she can get correct and how quickly. The counsellor can start with a few cards and can add in new emotion words and faces regularly to continue expanding that child’s vocabulary. This can be a great strategy for kids who need some extra help with social skills, in particular recognizing the emotions of others.

6) For Homework.

Send home a feeling chart and have the child (and the parent if possible) identify what she is feeling using the chart at least once per day. Not only will the child get to practice using her emotional vocabulary, but the parents will become involved in the work of therapy as well.

This kind of activity can open the door for a parent and child to have more emotionally-focused conversations, help build the parent-child bond, and may even assist parents in being more mindful of their own emotions. With these kinds of conversations, the parent will also get to model to their child how to talk about feelings and problem-solve emotional situations, all of which will help the child generalize healthy expression of emotion and coping outside the therapy room.


Join the Conversation: What are your favourite uses for emotion charts? Feel free to comment below.

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  1. https://www.ihhp.com/meaning-of-emotional-intelligence
Carey Emmerson6 Ways to Use Feeling Charts to Help Build Children’s Emotional Intelligence

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