Remember when your children used to come up to you, give you an energetic poke in the thigh to get your attention, and point? We identified the object they were pointing at, named it for them, and sometimes even let them have it! It wasn't really that complicated. In fact, teaching children to label things is one of the easiest things for a parent to do. Most of us get a perfect score at identifying what our kids "want." Unfortunately, it can be very hard for us identify what they are feeling. It's even harder for them. When we don't teach kids to identify their feelings, they can't work through them. This can create epic meltdowns in any child. Really, it's probably a leading cause of meltdowns for adults, too! Even when kids can identify feelings, they don't always acknowledge them. They just feel, without any conscious awareness. Helping children learn to express themselves gives them amazing coping skills and conflict resolution tools.
As you are probably already aware, my triplets have autism. One of the biggest challenges in our daily lives and even during their therapy sessions is difficulty recognizing or figuring out what just set them off.
Even though my children are "verbal," getting them to communicate can be a challenge sometimes. Like most kids, they are emotional and have frequent mood changes. Their emotions range in every direction throughout the day and by the end of it, I'm so ready to get off that rollercoaster.
Between our recent move, changes at school and in therapy, plus our daily routine, my sweethearts are having a hard time. I came up with a plan. I wanted to help them identify their emotions throughout the day, talk about what made them feel that emotion, and give them the tools to look back on their whole day before bedtime. First, I really thought about the basics of how young children learn. Visual aids are almost always helpful. Simplicity is key. Keeping learning fun and interactive is an absolute must! So, I needed a visual aide for identifying the emotions, a simple assortment, and an interactive approach. Excuse my modesty, but my idea was genius! I made them each a "Feelings Bucket." I even figured out how to have them identify the intensity of their feelings.
So, how does it work? I used large plastic baseballs and small plastic ping-pong balls from the Dollar Store to create faces with different emotions. Faces on the big balls mean big feelings. Faces on the little balls mean little feelings. This way, they can express feeling "a lot happy" or "a little happy." It works the same way for Sad, Mad, and Nervous. (We use "nervous" as a kind of other feeling, which could also indicate frustrated or confused, as well as nervous.) Remember, the simplicity is key.
Once all the faces were drawn on the balls, I put them all into a feelings bucket. Then I wrote each child's name on a bucket of their own. Easy and done! Throughout the day, I approach them with the feelings bucket and ask them, "how do you feel? Show me!" I am very intentional about approaching them when they are experiencing one of the emotions. They are allowed to search through the bucket to find a feeling that matches what they are feeling at the moment. We take a moment to talk about why they are feeling that particular way. I also make sure to ask if they feel "a little" or "a lot," of that feeling. Then they put their feeling in their bucket. I take a few minutes at the end of each day to pull each of then aside privately and talk about their day and their feelings. Then we dump their collection back into the feelings bucket so they can start over tomorrow.
This has worked better than I even imagined it would. Oh how I wish I would have done this long ago! I knew I had to share this with you. For under $10.00 and in less than 10 minutes, you'll be ready with this super fun and interactive way to teach your kids to identify feelings, too! Here's How: