Supporting our Children with Emotional Recognition

challenging behaviour emotions

Our emotions are complicated but at least as adults we know what they are. Generally we know what we are feeling and have strategies to manage those feelings.  Young children often don’t have emotional recognition skills yet. They just have the feelings without the understanding. This is why it’s pretty common for young children to have explosive reactions to those feelings. 

For some of our children understanding emotions is particularly hard.  They may have communication challenges or struggle to read their own internal and physical signals.  Some of our children have high anxiety and therefore have a huge challenge when it comes to regulating their emotions.

In this post I am looking at ways we can support our children to recognise emotions.

emotions matching
matching emotions with Otsimo

Labelling Emotions

One of the first things we can do to support our children with emotions is label them.  When we are sad / angry / happy – say it! ‘Mummy is angry that you just threw the food on the floor’, ‘I am really happy you are home’.  We also need to label our children’s emotions for them – ‘you feel sad’. Labelling emotions helps to build up the connections between the feelings for those particular emotions. It also helps to normalise our emotional experiences. It is normal to have a range of feelings, labelling what we are feeling and modelling appropriate ways to express emotions is a big part of parenting.

Visuals are a great way to help our children learn about emotions. Having things around the house to help you when emotions come up is really helpful. I have a poster on our fridge with different emotions so I can point to them when we are talking about how we feel. I also use our emotion fan pictured below. And also pictured below are our Emotion flashcards which you can get from Sensory Submarine who offer 10% off anything on their site to readers of The Autism Page. If making a purchase enter the code AutismPages10 to get your discount.

visual aids emotiob=n
Emotion visuals

How does it feel!

Our physical and sensory experience of our emotions will be individual to us. It is important to help our children identify what physical sensations they are feeling and pair it with their emotion.  Talk about and label those sensations,

Our feelings are full of physical sensations, our heart might start to race when we are scared or excited! Some of us go red or get sweaty with anticipation. Think and talk about how each emotion feels physically.

Recognising emotions

When a child has communication and / or interaction difficulties they may struggle to read other people’s emotions.  Things like facial expressions, tone of voice and body language are all good emotional cues but also something many of our children struggle to read. This is something we can teach our children to look out for.

Using visuals to show our children what different expressions look like and matching these to emotions will help with emotional recognition. Highlighting the body language for example hands on hips and raised eyebrows when someone is angry.

Our robot tutor QT helps us with emotional recognition, you can get a copy of the activity booklet pictured below and more ideas to support emotion recognition over at Luxai.

QT robot and emotions
QT Robot

Core Emotions

Our core emotions (those we feel automatically and quickly) are Joy (happiness), sadness, anger, fear, trust, surprise, anticipation and disgust. Core emotions are the building blocks for more complex emotions.  Examples would be:

  • Anger and fear = dread
  • Surprise and sadness = disapproval

This is why it is important for our kids to have a good understanding of the core emotions. So I would start simple with Happy, Sad and Angry then move through the core emotions before looking at more complex emotions later on.

Find out more about using emotion wheels to understand emotions over at Mind Body Green.

What is Emotional Regulation?

Emotional Regulation is the ability to respond to an emotional experience. 

The goal is to support our children to read their emotions, have healthy coping skills and strategies for managing them (self-regulation). Equally we want our children to read other people’s emotions and understand how to respond to different emotional experiences. 

The manage my emotions worksheets above are available for free on Twinkl.

For most children emotional regulation is a process that will take time. Even as adults we are still learning about our feelings and ways to manage our own emotions so it is important to remember our kids are at the beginning and need our help to better understand what they are feeling.

All emotions have a purpose, we are feeling something for a reason. It is how we react to our emotions that matters. However we don’t necessarily know what we are feeling or why.  The first step to enable us in managing our emotions is being able to identify what we are feeling as this can give us a clue as to why and then how to react to it.

Resources to support emotional recognition:

Along with the resources already mentioned I really like the emotion sorting activity below available from Twinkl (if you don’t use Twinkl your child’s school or nursery may be able to access this for you).

emotion sorting
emotion sorting activity from Twinkl

Books are a great way to look at feelings and emotions, some are linked below. I also really recommend watching the Disney Pixar film Inside Out as it follows the core emotions.

If you have any resources you have found helpful do share them in the comments below.

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  1. 19th November 2021 / 7:24 pm

    These are such wonderful tips for those with autism and for other young kids. I love the visuals. We use books and social stories too. Thanks for linking. #KCACOLS

    • admin
      19th November 2021 / 7:25 pm

      Thank you I always find visuals an important part of teaching anything. Social stories are another great support for learning.

  2. 27th November 2021 / 5:45 pm

    What fantastic ways to understand your own emotions and how to regulate them! Thank you! #KCACOLS

  3. 23rd December 2021 / 11:10 am

    Some great tips here. Visuals are definitely the key to success. I created some resources to help with recognising, communicating and managing feelings and emotions based on my experience with my autistic son.

    • admin
      23rd December 2021 / 12:24 pm

      They really do make all teh difference

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