Big Feelings: Internal Emotion Recognition

Recognizing Internal Emotions
Recognizing Internal Emotions

So, in reality, this post should be called, ” Why all speech therapists jumped for joy when they saw Inside Out.” Buuuut… that doesn’t fit well on a pinnable graphic.

But really. That movie is fantastic for explaining emotions to kids. It’s not often you get a tangible example of internal emotions and their effect on a child. It’s the perfect reference for helping a child identify and process internal emotions.

I have found that, for most children, identifying emotions within themselves is much more difficult than recognizing emotions in a character in a story. It gets even trickier when they feel wronged, betrayed, or otherwise angry.

So how can a parent make the jump from a story to the child’s actual emotions? Working with the special needs preschool population, I had success in creating a middle step. I made a simple small book just by folding a few sheets of paper and stapling. I then brainstormed with my clients about situations that would make them mad (the majority of my students struggled the most with anger). If your child can’t offer up their own suggestions, try framing the conversation so it seems like he or she came up with it.

I then gave each child a few minutes to draw the situation, such as, “So-and-so took my favorite toy” or “I had to leave my friend’s house.” This really helped each child to feel involved and validated. Just don’t let it go too long.

We then talked about how Mad the child felt, and slowly moved into “Well, you don’t want to stay mad forever. How can we feel Happy again?”

Like I said, this “my feelings book” concept worked with several children, even those with moderate disabilities. It was a perfect way to bridge the gap between speech/school and home, because the child took the book home and parents worked on it in a similar way. However, it is by no means the only way to address big feelings.
I have seen charts that have pictures of each feeling and children refer to those to discern those big feelings as they happen. See (Link to come) for a great tutorial!
You can jump on Pinterest and find so many great ideas.

My advice would be to be mindful of your child’s abilities, their language skills, and their attention span.

Next time I will have Part 3: Processing Big Feelings.

So how do you help your child label what they are feeling? Does your child struggle with this?

Big Feelings: Emotion Recognition

Big Feelings (2)

You will hear about big feelings on this blog. You will see what big feelings look like on this blog. Big feelings can be terrifying, maddening, overwhelming for both the adult and child.

For most young children, big feelings are usually ones of anger, frustration, and/or desperation. Chicka Chicka has big feelings when I am not doing what she wants or even (gasp!) ignoring her. Boom Boom has big feelings when he is denied something- if I say no, or take a toy away, or he can’t go outside. O how the world ends when that little boy can’t go outside. I get big feelings when I am frustrated, or tired, or hungry, or all of the above.

When my children have big feelings, I absolutely have to take a step back. I think it’s our nature as human beings to match other people’s emotions. If I don’t take a deep breath, or pause for a second before responding, I am much more prone to raising my voice or doling out a punishment that maybe wasn’t completely warranted (20-minute timeout, anyone?)

So how do we avoid these situations? How do we avoid those big feelings? The fact is, you can’t. Big feelings happen.

But don’t despair. There are several ways to proactively make those big feelings not feel so big.

The first thing to work on with big feelings is to identify them. Have you ever tried to describe to a child what being angry feels like? Sure, you can make a mad face and stomp your feet, but that actual sensation is tricky to put into words.

Luckily, Trace Moroney has done the work for us in his book “When I’m Feeling Angry.” It sums it up as follows:

“When I’m feeling angry, I feel like there is a boiling hot volcano in my tummy that is about to explode!”

If that isn’t the most beautiful description of anger ever. Paired with a cute little bunny. Trace Moroney has a whole series of big feelings books that include Angry, Happy, Sad, and Scared.

Reading books like these are a great way to teach a child how to identify emotions. Because, let’s face it, even adults aren’t real great at identifying emotions, especially when we’re feeling four or five at once.

Another way to work on identifying emotions is to have visual examples of the four main emotions: mad, sad, scared, and happy. You could turn these into a fun matching game, a “find the feeling” game, or use them in conjunction with a book to identify emotions as they change throughout the story. Just remember that in all these scenarios, the pictures and the feelings need to be simple and obvious.

This will take time. Big feelings are blurry and intangible. But finding external sources that teach children how to identify emotions is so crucial.

Stay tuned as I start talking about how to teach children to identify emotions within themselves.