We’re so glad you’re here! These activities can open the door to countless valuable conversations about your child’s feelings, your feelings as a parent, and the feelings of those around you both.
Our hope is that by working together, you’ll find yourself with more empathy and understanding of your child's behavior, and as they grow you may find that they understand and care for those around them a bit more as well too. Academics and educators call that Social-Emotional Intelligence, you may call it whatever you'd like!
Activities are divided by age, Printables are at the VERY BOTTOM of this page for you to pick and choose.
For Ages 0 - 3
Activity 1: “Read” faces
Select a few cards from the deck in a small basket for your child to explore, pick some sad, some happy, some surprised. And simply just start out talking about them together.
Show the card to your child. Make up a simple story about why the child in the photo is looking the way they do. "This boy is happy to see his Momma." or " This girl is sad because she can't go outside to play." Look at the card and make the same face. Show the card again to your child.
Activity 2: Calm place
The world can be loud or overwhelming at times, create a special place in your home where your children know they can go for love, comfort, support and guidance. Together, pick a few items that make your child feel comforted. Be there together, use a soft voice, take time to listen to your child.
Talk about ways you like to calm down, like breathing, going for a walk, getting some alone time, closing your eyes etc. Let your child know that we all have these feelings and we need to care for ourselves.
Activity 3: Narration, an activity for the adult
If you (as the adult) are feeling a strong emotion, narrate what’s happening: “Momma stubbed her toe. Ouch, it hurts. I feel frustrated and really mad and I have pain!” or “Papa is so happy to see you! I missed you today, and it feels so good to be together with people I love!”
As an adult, it may sound strange to narrate this sorts of experiences. But vivid examples like this will benefit your child in understanding the complex behaviors of those around him. Giving your child the words that match their own feelings will to help to develop clear communication around needs and empathy for one another. It feels good to be heard and acknowledged.
For Ages 3- 6
Activity 1: "Tell me what you see."
Mirrors are powerful tools for children at this age. A small unbreakable mirror is best for this activity. Have your child look at their face. Ask “Tell me what you see.” Listen to their answers.
They may just make silly faces or get absorbed in seeing themselves. That's completely normal. If they get into this grove, ask them "What kind of face are you making?" If it's a silly face pull card #30.
Then, place a few cards in front of them and have them choose just one. Have them make the same face they see on the card. You may have to do it yourself before they're comfortable doing it themselves. Ask them what they think that child is feeling. It can be a single word or a whole story. Have them tell you about what might have made the child feel that way. Ask the child what they call that feeling. Name it with them. Ask them if they've ever felt like that before. And when did they feel like that.
Activity 2: Let's draw it
Remember and talk about a time when you felt sad or happy (a simple story) and draw it with your child, (it doesn't have to be perfect, just give it a try). Talk about it together. Then have them draw a time when they felt a strong emotion. If your child draws a lot by themselves normally, you may find they incorporate many new feelings with their people after this activity.
Remember, everybody doesn't always have to be happy in pictures, and all emotions are beneficial. All emotions deserve to be represented.
Activity 3: Reading faces, a game! (ages 3 to 6)
This is a cooperative game to play with several children closer to the age of five or six and up with an adult.
Work together to understand the facial expression of the child holding the card up.
• The Emotions Deck (ring removed)
• A piece of white paper for each child and one for the pile of cards.
Set it up:
Start by putting two cards per child in a pile on the table. Cover the pile with a piece of paper. Give each child a piece of paper folded in half.
Playing the game:
1. Starting to the left of the adult, have the first child choose the top card under the paper cover and slide it inside their folded piece of paper. Don't let the others see that card! It's a secret.
2. Have the child carefully open the folded paper and look at the expression on the card. Have the child make the same expression as shown on the card. They can look as many times as needed until they are ready.
3. The child then holds up the card and shows it to the group. He tries to make the same expression that is on the card that he is holding.
4. The child to the left reads the expression, "You are making a silly face?"
5. The child answers: "No, not a silly face." Or "Yes, a silly face!" If the child holding the card says yes, she keeps the card and then the next child takes a turn. She slides a new card from the master pile and begins the process with a new card. If the child says no, the next child tries to help the children understand the feeling being expressed. Keep going around a circle to help the child holding the card. If no one can identify the emotion, the card goes back to the bottom of the deck and the next child picks a new card from the deck.
NOTE: Make this a game that your child feels safe playing and wants to play again. Be kind and respectful of each other's interpretation. Talk about how expressing new feelings is very hard for some people, why it seems an emotional expression might be a mis-read. This game should be kept to a small group and always have an adult present to call attention to the child feeling the emotion (holding the card).
If a child has misread the card and no one guesses, have the child holding the card tell the children what the feeling was for them. There is no one answer that is right at this age, but it will give you clues about where the children are in their social-emotional development. It also invites questions and ideas about feelings.
Keep the game short, maybe two times around the group is good. Prepare the deck to match double the number of children playing. An advanced version for the older siblings or as your child grows will be discussed in the next section.
For Ages 6 - 9
Activity 1: Wheel of Emotions
Download and print Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions for this activity, get the Printable Companion Sheet here (PDF)
Spread the photo cards out on a large table or on the floor and work together with a friend to place the cards in a circle showing the range of emotions. Use the color coding to help you. Download our key here.
There is no right way to "read" emotions. That is what makes it hard sometimes. Talk about those you can read and think of a time you felt that way. What emotion were you feeling?
Set aside the ones you are not sure of yet.
Activity 2: Reading faces, a game! (Advanced)
Advanced version of the game listed in the 3-6 section.
While playing the cooperative game listed above, add the following activity to the mix:
Pick your card from the deck when it is your turn. Tell a short story about what happened to the child in the photograph or illustration you chose. Hold the card up and tell your story. Then make the face shown on the card.
Next have the child to your left explain how your character might be feeling.
If they are correct, the turn passes to them. If they are not correct at their explanation, the turn passes to their left.
Keep going around the group until everyone has had a turn. Really encourage the children to try to understand the story and name the emotion shown on the card being held up. The game continues around the circle until all the cards are used.
Cooperation makes this game a learning experience. Using teams of two children for the story/emotion could be another way to play!
All ages group activity: Be creative together.
Draw a card from the deck and use music, drawing, writing or dance as a means of expressing your emotions! Make something up together, listen, be present with them. There are so many ways to use these cards. We look forward to seeing what you create together!
Above Owen holds a drawing he made of how he felt that day using the colors from the Wheel of Emotions. It was self-directed. We ended up mailing this exact piece to a young adult friend who just started college, who Owen (five years old) stated "may have been feeling the same way".
Printables for Children
Make a face (PDF)
For ages 3 to 9 years
Face illustrations open for drawing your own expressions.
Robert Plutchik's Wheel (PDF)
For ages 9 and up
Available fully labeled, simplified and plain.
Printables for Adults
Color-coding key (PDF)
What's that emotion? What those little numbers in the corners of your deck mean.
Emotions, a parent guide (PDF)
How to use the deck together with your child. Includes, large version of Signals guide, color-coding key and more.
Basic needs (PDF)
A parent-created guide for when your child is out of sorts.
Processing stimuli for survival (PDF)
A primer on Emotions as tools for survival. On Robert Plutchick's Psychoevolutionary Synthesis.
Intense feelings (PDF)
Coping ideas and getting help for your child.
Links, Videos and more
Video, Sesame Street: Mark Ruffalo and Murray talk about the word, Empathy
www.grimace-project.net a way to see the progression and development of more complex emotions. Check this app out first on your own as a parent and determine if it is something you want to introduce to your pre-teen.
Scott McCloud-Making Comics
The guide to understanding body language and facial expressions in comics. Check it out with your pre-teen and teen child.
"What's that look on your face?"
Recommended for pre-teens because of the poetry used to accompany the illustrations. No photographs were used in this book, only illustrations.
Just for Parents:
Brenae Brown has an animated TED talk on Empathy vs. Sympathy
http://youtu.be/1Evwgu369Jw (She also discusses Creativity, Vulnerability and Shame in other TED talks)
Teaching Children Empathy
How Emotionally Intelligent Are You?
The Mind Behind the Eyes, an online face-reading Quiz
AHA Parenting A Blog by Dr. Laura Markham
Zero to Three
Website with listings on books to develop understanding around specific emotions using books as a tool for younger children.
When Mindfulness Meets the Classroom
About Robert Plutchik
Five apps help kids learn about emotions
iOs and Android apps for children
Video: The Genius of Play
Advisement from parents, educators and consultants has formed this deck into a powerful tool for children. We hope we've inspired you to work together with your children on getting in touch with our feelings. Listening and being there for each other is just the beginning. We hope you enjoy it.
And if you haven't already, pick up your Emotions deck here in our store. Illustrated by Marie Thorhage, and photographs by Rhiannon McCalmont.
Have something to add? We'd love to hear from you!