Sunday, January 20, 2019

3 Fun Exercises That Help Kids Tap Into Their Emotions

Something to experiment at home and in class!

1. Mirror Faces
This one is great for small children. Simply sit or stand in front of a mirror. Then, call out emotions and make a face that corresponds with that emotion. You can even pair the emotions with animals and sounds to dial up the play. For example, "I'm an angry tiger, grrr!" or "I'm a happy monkey, ooo-ooo-ahh-ahh."
At the youngest age, this exercise will be more about the parent leading, but trust that it's being internalized. Soon enough your little one will join in.

2. I Feel [Happy] When...
My family tends to play this game in the car. One person starts by saying, "I feel happy when (insert scenario here)." Then, everyone takes turns sharing what makes them happy. Once everyone gets a turn, someone changes the emotion. For example, "I feel sad when...," or "I feel cranky when...," or "I feel angry when..." You get the idea.
Each time you start in on a new emotion, try to let everyone share at least once before changing the emotion again. The first few times you may need to initiate the emotion change, but before you know it the kids will take over. Both my 3- and 6-year-old participate and even initiate this game. As a parent, it's amazing the insight you will gain into your child's thoughts and feelings.
In order for this exercise to be successful, there are a few things to keep in mind: Participate, listen, and never judge. Even when you hear, "I feel sad when Mommy yells at us in the morning" (yes, I heard this one), do not respond with, "Well, I asked you to put your shoes on six times!!!" Just listen. When it's your turn, you might say, "I feel sad when Mommy yells." It's really important to establish a safe space for emotions to be shared, released, and never judged.

 3. Who's in There?
This is a popular one in the evenings at our house. It plays off the child's incredible ability to imagine. In this exercise, children actually visualize what each of their emotions looks like. You start by asking "Who's in there today?" You can build upon your child's answer from there. Ask questions like, "What are they wearing today?" or "Are they hungry?"
It's interesting to see how these emotion characters take on a storyline after a while. You may find yourselves getting into some pretty elaborate conversations! Additionally, if your child is into art, you can have them draw what their emotions look like. They may look like little characters or simply be a swirl of color. There is no right or wrong.
Just the other day, my 6-year-old and I were working on riding her bike without training wheels. Afterward, she told me, without being prompted, "Fear was getting tired at the end and I could barely hear him." It was heartwarming to hear her identify and communicate that emotion to me.
The idea of visualizing emotions might be a bit abstract in the beginning. When you're first introducing this concept to your child, you might need to model it for them. Find a time when you're just hanging out and ask the question, "Have you ever wondered what happy looks like?" Then describe your picture of happy and ask them what they think. Remember, their emotional characters are theirs, not yours. Feel free to guide, but refrain from adding your own ideas to their vision.
The above activities can help all of us to acknowledge, release, and create a conversation with and around our feelings. I hope you enjoy exploring these ideas with your own family. I have learned as much as my kids have from these tools and, most importantly, doing them together has strengthened our connection.

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