You can use a feelings wheel to teach kids about their emotions. The wheel has basic feelings in the center circle. More specific feelings are in the outer circle.
The feelings wheel has both pictures and words to help kids name their emotions. Kids who don’t yet have the words for their emotions can use the pictures.
Why use a feelings wheel
Kids have emotions from birth. But it takes many years to develop the language to express those feelings. When kids don’t have the words, they might show their feelings through behavior. That can be a frustrating experience for everyone.
The feelings wheel can help kids make connections between feelings, body sensations, and words. It also can help kids learn that it’s OK to express their emotions — and give them the words to do that.
How to use the feelings wheel
Kids will need directions about how to use the wheel. Here are some ways to start.
- At first, show kids the wheel when things are calm. It’s hard to learn something new when emotions are high.
- Have kids point to an emoji or one of the basic feelings words (happy, sad, or angry). Then talk about when they might feel those emotions, and why.
- With older kids, talk about some of the more complex words, like annoyed, embarrassed, or jealous.
- Talk about the groupings of feelings on the wheel. Let kids know that it’s OK to have feelings that don’t fit in one word or group. You might say, “Feelings are messy. It’s OK to have trouble picking just one word for them.”
After kids know how to use the wheel, they can use it to express how they’re feeling during or after a challenging moment. Try these steps.
- Ask if they’d like to use the wheel to express how they’re feeling.
- Let them know they don’t have to talk if they don’t want to. They can just point to words or pictures.
- If kids refuse or appear too upset to use the wheel, put it away for a calmer moment.
- As kids get more comfortable with using the wheel, you can talk about calming strategies that might work for specific feelings.
When kids are able to identify and talk about their emotions, they can learn ways to cope with how they feel.
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About the author
About the author
Andrew Kahn, PsyD is a licensed psychologist who has served as an evaluator and consultant in public schools for nearly 20 years. Dr. Kahn identifies as neurodivergent and serves as a subject matter expert at Understood.