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Emotion Charts (and more) for Soothing Big Emotions

Written by Ariana Crisafulli


Posted on August 31 2021


The other day I was visiting my niece and her husband. They have two young children, a boy and a girl. I've heard from phone calls with my niece that their little boy, Jack, who is four years old, has some pretty serious emotional meltdowns from time to time (don't we all). During my visit this weekend, I got to see it first hand.

The two children were playing when Jack's little sister took one of his toys. Jack was not pleased. In fact, he started screaming his cute little head off. It was immediately clear that this was on its way to full-on meltdown. 

At that moment, his parents did something that seriously impressed me. They ran and grabbed something called an emotion chart. The emotion chart had cartoonish images of children's faces on a spectrum of emotions ranging from happy to sad, and everything in between… angry, worried, etc. As Jack's outburst was gaining steam, my niece and her husband set this board on the floor in front of Jack and, making soothing noises, asked him to identify what he was feeling. And I kid you not, Jack calmed right down when he was able to name his emotion.

So this got me thinking… why was this so effective? And are there other tools we can employ to help children develop healthy relationships with their emotions?

Firstly, the emotion chart was so effective because, although children have big emotions from time to time, they don't always know what they are, how to identify them, or how to communicate them. Heck, many adults don't even know how to communicate their own feelings. And emotions can feel much bigger if they stay in your head, wouldn't you agree? Putting a name to a feeling and learning how to express that feeling without having a meltdown is very important for a future ability to regulate one's own emotions. Plus, learning that it's okay to have feelings helps children normalize them. 

It's also important to note that, because children don't yet know how to regulate their emotions or how to express them well, they really need the caretakers in their lives to help them learn how to self-soothe and self-regulate. This is not necessarily something that comes naturally. There are some who even believe that time-outs for emotional outbursts are a bad idea because it leaves children alone with their big emotions when they might need a caring adult there to help them identify and express their feelings.

According to Kidshelpline, children who learn how to express their feelings are more likely to:

  • Display fewer behavior problems
  • Do better in school
  • Be empathetic and supportive of others
  • Develop healthy coping skills and resilience
  • Have a positive self-image
  • Have more positive and stable relationships with others
  • Have good mental health

Using an emotion chart is a great way to help children learn how to identify their emotions so that expressing them becomes easier. You can find them on Pinterest or just a random search on Google images and simply print one out. But there are other ways to help children learn how to identify and express their emotions as well.

For example, making a habit of regularly saying how you feel out loud, using simple language, can teach your children that you have feelings too and that it's okay to say how you feel. For example, when you pick them up from school, you can say, "I'm so happy to see you!" Or if your child throws a tantrum and calls you mean, you can tell them, "It makes me feel sad when you call me mean."

If your child is having big emotions, you can try to help them identify what they're feeling by asking them. "Do you feel upset?" "Do you feel angry?" This lets your child know that they are seen, and helps them to verbalize what they're experiencing.

Another activity is pointing out emotions in other people or children around you, or even characters in movies or TV. Maybe you're at the store together and you hear a baby crying. Go ahead and ask your child what they think the baby is feeling and why they might be crying. This is a great lesson in identifying and expressing feelings, plus it teaches your child that other people experience emotions too, helping them to develop empathy.

There are also plenty of songs to sing or children's books to read that help children identify and express their feelings. 

Remember also that some children might be shy about telling you how they feel. It's important not to force the issue. Help your child learn how to identify their feelings and others' feelings, but don't pressure them to always tell you exactly how they feel. Let them express themselves the way they feel comfortable. 

In any case, I was very glad to have witnessed my niece and her husband using an emotion chart with their little boy. I wish we had had emotions charts when my kids were young! The whole thing was very impressive and very eye-opening. And it can be said for anyone at any age… you'll feel better if you just express yourself!

We'd love to hear your experiences with soothing your children's big emotions, and any suggestions or recommendations for emotion charts, games, books, etc. that might be useful. Thank you!