As I’ve written in previous posts, I like to take time early in my work with a child or young person to talk about emotions, to assess what the child’s emotional awareness is, her ability to express a wide range of emotions, and how she copes with various emotions. Having a sense of a child’s emotional intelligence at the start of therapy, can help provide insight for how to proceed with the rest of counselling. For example, if emotional language is difficult for a child, regardless of the concerns that have brought them to counselling, helping them to identify and label emotions must be the first steps in learning how to deal appropriately with unpleasant emotional states like anger, sadness, and anxiety, all of which will inevitably arise in response to life situations.
Game play is one easy and versatile way to give children the opportunity to talk about emotions. So keep a feeling chart handy and try out these games with your child clients or students. Or if you are a parent and want to help your kids develop their skill in expressing emotion, I invite you to feel free to make these modifications and play these games at home. For those of you who subscribe to our email list, you may have seen some of these ideas in previous posts, but for convenience sake, we wanted to bring them together in one emotion-focused post.
Games to Develop Children’s Emotional Intelligence
1. Charades – Charades gives kids an opportunity to learn how emotions are felt and expressed in their bodies. Put a bunch of feelings into a hat and take turns picking a feeling and acting that emotion out for the other person to guess. In doing so, you encourage children to notice what anger or anxiety or excitement feel like in one’s facial feature, hands, legs, movements, etc. For older kids, you could put short scenarios in the hat as well and encourage the child to act out what emotion they would feel in that situation. Doing so can help children link events in the outside world with feeling states and will help you identify both children’s range of emotions and their ability to understand their own emotional reactions. This game can be played in a one-on-one setting or with a small group.
2. Snakes and Ladders – Play this popular kids’ game as you regularly would, but with one twist. When children hit a ladder, have them pick a pleasant emotion like happy, excited, loved, playful from a feeling chart and talk about a time when they felt that way before they are able to ascend the ladder and continue with play. When they go down a snake, have them pick an unpleasant feeling or a feeling that they don’t enjoy and talk about an experience they have had with that feeling.
3. Checkers – You can play checkers the same way as I described for snakes and ladders; when a player jump another player, she shares about a pleasant emotion, when she gets jumped she shares about an unpleasant one. Or, print our modified game board here. This game board has the feeling faces right on the squares. When a player lands on a feeling space, they get to share about that emotion. If you do print out the board, use your laminator and make it reusable (or another great option is to just send it home with the child to play with a parent/guardian).
4. Memory – Play an adaptation of the well-known memory game. Print out duplicates of your feeling faces or feeling flash cards. Lay the cards face-down on the table or floor and then each player takes turns flipping over 2 cards at a time. If the cards don’t match, they are turned back over and the next person gets to take a turn. Once a match is found, the player who finds the match gets to keep it, and also gets to tell about an experience where she felt that particular emotion. We shared our version of this game called “Feelings Match-Up”, including instructions and our cards here.
5. Jenga – Write feelings and or draw faces on the different blocks of a Jenga set. When a block containing a certain emotion is pulled, the player shares about an experience she had with that emotion. Alternatively, write questions on each of the blocks relating to emotional experiences, expression, and coping. Players then answer the question on whatever block they select during their turn.
6. Darts or Basketball – Hang laminated feeling faces on the wall or on a rubber dart set from the dollar store and take turns tossing a rubber dart at the faces. Once a dart is tossed, the player shares about the feeling her dart lands closest to. Alternatively, put a different emotion word or face in front of each of several bins or baskets. Take turns tossing a small ball into the different baskets and then share about the corresponding feeling.
7. Go Fish for Feelings – This game takes a bit of prep, but you can reuse the activity with no additional preparations after you have made your initial deck of cards. Pick 13 different feelings and print 4 faces of each emotion (for a regular-sized deck of cards). Print the faces on cardstock and then cut the cardstock into game card shapes with one face per card. You can also print your faces on regular paper, cut them out, and glue the faces onto a regular set of playing cards (I would recommend laminating the cards if you do it this way for ease of shuffling and so the faces don’t get pulled off). Then play Go Fish using whatever set of rules you prefer. Whenever someone gets a full set – or a pair if you play that way – of one feeling, the player can share about an experience of that feeling.
8. Do-It-Yourself board game – If you want something a little more customizable, you can make your own board game. We shared a blank game board on an earlier post that you can use for whatever feeling you want or for different emotions. Put different emotions or questions about feelings on each of those spaces. E.g. What do you find scary? Who do you talk to when you are feeling worried or afraid? What are some things you can do to help yourself feel better when you are afraid? Etc.
We hope you have found some games here that you can use to help your clients or kids talk about their emotions and build their emotional intelligence. We shared activities that involve asking kids to share about experiences with emotions, as doing so helps a counsellor to ascertain a child’s understanding of emotion vocabulary, to build rapport and conduct assessment with a child, and to get an idea for triggers and responses around specific emotions. However, it is important to note that with any of these games, the counsellor can ask additional questions to flesh out details of experience and deepen the child’s understanding of her emotions. For example, other questions could include: “Where did you feel that emotion in your body?”, “Who noticed that you were feeling that way?”, “What did you do when you felt that way?”, and so forth.
Join the discussion and let us know in the comments below what your favourite games are for helping children improve their ability to identify and express emotion.