As a Recreation Therapist and mom to a child with intense emotional challenges, I am a huge advocate of using play based tools to help children understand, process, and appropriately respond to their emotions. Not only is this helpful for the child and those surrounding that child, but it also goes hand in hand with identifying and appropriately responding to the emotions that others are expressing. Here are my four steps to helping children with their emotions, and the tools you need to do so.
- Give the emotions a name. Identification is the first step in properly expressing our own emotions, and in having empathy toward the emotions of others. Resource – My Big Barefoot Book of Wonderful Words has an awesome two-page spread that covers a huge variety of emotions so that your child can identify what he or she, or another person may be feeling.
- Work through scenarios, and practice expressing how YOU feel. Children naturally do this through play, particularly through imaginative play like with a dollhouse and dolls. Resource– Create A Story Cards is a beautiful deck of 46 picture cards. It’s an award winning product that has endless possibilities for you to create “social stories” (a therapeutic term that basically means you tell your child or client a story that models the appropriate action that you want them to exhibit in real life), and also for your child to work through their own scenarios, or to be guided with your help through scenarios involving complex emotions or reactions to situations.
- Practice working with others. This opens up communication, helps build respect of others, and literally builds the skill of working in cooperation with others. Resource– there are MANY cooperative games on the Barefoot Books website. Pick a topic that interests your children (there is everything from Dinosaurs and Owls, to Chickens and Mermaids available!), and let them play with these cooperative games. They will quickly learn to respect and help each other through the game, because either everyone wins or loses…together!
- Target specific emotions. I like to keep a variety of books on hand so that we already have resources available for when they are needed in dealing with specific emotions. You can use these as they are, or as a starter for discussions, activities, and further processing.
- Anger – Emily’s Tiger
- Grief – The Tear Thief
- Being different – The Elephants’ Ears
- Fear – A Dragon on the Doorstep
- Loneliness – Sand Sister
- Selfishness – The Parrot Tico Tango (a singalong about sharing), Ruby’s Baby Brother (about bringing a new sibling into the family), One City, Two Brothers (putting others before yourself), and a lot more once you start digging through the site!
- Contentment – The Blue Bird’s Palace
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