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How to Use the Feelings Wheel for Kids to Develop Emotional Intelligence

Anchor Light Therapy Collective

Feb 29, 2024

What if there was a tool to help your kids learn to identify and express their emotions healthily?

The feelings wheel, also called an emotion wheel, is a tool that can be used to invite kids to talk about their emotional experiences. It helps them develop empathy, increase self-confidence, improve behavior, and can be a fun way to integrate positive coping skills into family activities. This page will describe how parents can incorporate this resource into daily life with their children.

What is the feelings wheel?

The feelings wheel is a visual tool that provides a conversational reference for developing individuals. It can be an overwhelming experience for children to identify primary and other emotions, and many children forget what emotion words to use when describing their experience while upset in the moment. An emotions wheel can give them an idea of what word to use.

There are various emotion wheels that can be used, depending on the ages of your kids and their developmental needs. We recommend the model created by Dr. Gloria Willcox rather than the more complex Plutchik’s emotion wheel. Younger kids might appreciate having a feelings wheel with pictures to represent emotions. At the same time, older kids might be able to use a detailed emotion wheel with more specific emotions added to it.

Emotion wheels help children identify primary emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise. These primary emotions are experienced universally across all cultures, so understanding these emotions will help your child make friends and connect to others. Later in this post, tips will be provided on how these resources can be used to improve your child’s mental health.

How to use the feelings wheel with your kids

Parents can effectively use the feelings wheel with their kids by first introducing it as a tool to help understand and express emotions. Sit down and connect with your child by exploring the various emotions depicted on the wheel, discussing what each one means and when they might experience them. Encourage your child to identify how they’re feeling using the wheel, providing guidance and support as needed. Use the feelings wheel as a springboard for meaningful conversations about emotions, validating your child’s feelings and helping them develop emotional intelligence. Incorporate the feelings wheel into daily check-ins or bedtime routines to foster ongoing communication and emotional awareness in your child.

Please follow this link for a printable version of the feelings wheel.

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10 benefits of teaching your children emotional regulation

Children who learn emotional regulation can adapt and recover from challenging life events. If possible, start using resources like the feelings wheel to teach your kids about their emotions beginning at a young age.

When kids don’t learn how to regulate their emotions, they might experience behavioral issues because they don’t know what to do with their feelings. When you see a child “acting out”, or having a tantrum/meltdown, they might simply be angry and unsure what to do about it.

The first step would be to use the emotion wheel to identify “I am mad”. From there, they can learn appropriate ways to release their anger. With practice, they will naturally start to have appropriate behavioral responses to emotional experiences independently.

Teaching children to understand core emotions, as conceptualized in tools like the feelings wheel, offers several significant benefits, including:

1. Emotional intelligence development

Recognizing and naming emotions is a fundamental aspect of emotional intelligence. Children who identify and understand their feelings are better equipped to manage their emotional experiences effectively.

2. Improved communication skills

When children can articulate their emotions, they can communicate more effectively with parents, teachers, and peers. This clarity helps in resolving conflicts and expressing needs and desires.

3. Better emotional regulation

Understanding emotions is the first step in learning to regulate them. Children who identify their feelings are more likely to develop strategies for coping with difficult emotions like anger or sadness.

4. Enhanced empathy

Recognizing their own emotions helps children understand the feelings of others. This fosters empathy and compassion, important traits for interpersonal relationships.

5. Academic and social success

Emotional awareness and regulation are linked to better performance in school and healthier social interactions. Emotionally literate children tend to have fewer behavioral problems and better peer relationships.

6. Mental health benefits

Early emotional education can contribute to better mental health. Understanding and managing emotions can reduce the risk of depression, anxiety, and other emotional difficulties later in life. Toddler anxiety can also be addressed with the feelings wheel. This is an extremely powerful tool for a defiant three-year old, and more.

7. Problem-solving skills

Emotional understanding aids in problem-solving and decision-making. When children can assess their emotional responses, they are better prepared to make thoughtful choices in challenging situations.

8. Resilience building

Recognizing and dealing with various emotions can help children develop resilience, enabling them to bounce back from setbacks and adapt to changing circumstances.

9. Self-awareness

Learning how many emotions humans can experience contributes to self-awareness, a key component of personal development. It helps children understand their identity and how they relate to the world around them.

10. Healthy relationships

Emotional literacy lays the foundation for healthy, respectful relationships throughout life. It helps children understand boundaries, respect, and cooperative interaction.

Examples of situations to use the emotion wheel with children

During an argument

It is nearly dinner time when you suddenly hear yelling from the other room. When your children are fighting, this is the perfect time to use a feelings wheel.

How to use the feelings wheel during an argument

When siblings are fighting, the problem is that they are getting stuck on defending their position. The feelings wheel can shift the conversation, helping each sibling share their feelings. This can also help them empathize more with their sibling’s side of the story.

After a loss

Children grieve losses in their ways and need support to process and understand why they are experiencing such big emotions.

How to use the feelings wheel after a loss 

During the grieving process, people experience various emotions. One day, they might feel sad. Another day, they might feel angry. The feelings wheel can help them understand what’s happening. Don’t wait for them to bring it up; parents should initiate this discussion.

The tearful child

You just arrived to pick your daughter up from school, and she starts crying as soon as she gets into your car. You aren’t sure what caused her to feel sad, but you can see she needs you.

How to use the feelings wheel with a tearful child 

The emotion wheel can help your daughter express her basic emotions. You will help her feel heard and understood by talking about her emotions.

After a traumatic event

A few days ago, there was a car accident, and your son was in the car when it happened. When you asked him about the event, he was having trouble talking about it.

How to use the feelings wheel after a traumatic event 

After a traumatic event, it is common for people to hold tension in their bodies from the traumatic event. When using the feelings wheel, it can be helpful to talk through what emotions were experienced and where they felt the emotions in their body.

A routine family activity

The emotion wheel can also be integrated into your daily routine. Regularly connecting with emotions is an important part of growth and development.

How to use the feelings wheel during a routine family activity 

Pick a time every day to practice using the feelings wheel. Regular use will make it more natural for your kids to identify their feelings. Adults can also use the emotion wheel to search for that perfect word!

Helpful tips when using the emotion wheel

Try using the emotion wheel in different ways

On some days, your daughter might point to the word describing how she feels. On another day, you might ask your son to draw a picture representing the feeling word he picked out.

Explore identities

Use the emotion wheel to help your kids explore their identities. Even at a young age, kids know what it is like to live in this world. Allow them to discuss it, using the feelings wheel to guide your discussion.

Identify feelings

Use expressive arts to help your kid identify their feelings. It can be helpful for them to create something; after engaging in creative activities, they might be able to point out which words describe their emotions.

Correlate with social media

If your kids use social media, consider ways these tools can be integrated into those platforms. When adults post on their social media pages about how they are feeling, this is another time when you can set an example of how to express emotions appropriately.

Start by identifying the primary emotions

Sometimes, kids get stuck searching for a specific emotion but can’t find which words describe how they feel. If this happens, see if they can connect to one of the six or eight primary emotions first, which can help them figure out which category of specific emotions to look at next.

Dive deeper into specific emotions

If they are old enough for larger vocabulary words, starting by looking at the more specific emotions can also be helpful. When the primary emotions don’t match the intensity of the emotion being experienced, a different specific emotion might feel more validating. For example, “rage” might be more accurate than “mad”.

Link emotions to behaviors

Parents can also help kids understand the way an emotion influences behavior. For example, when someone feels mad, the behavioral response might be to yell or tense their body. When talking about human emotions, parents might also consider providing their kids with a list of appropriate ways to express their feelings.

What is child development?

Child development encompasses five key areas: physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and language development.

Physical development involves the growth and maturation of the body, including motor skills such as crawling, walking, and fine motor skills like grasping objects.

Cognitive development pertains to the mental processes of learning, understanding, and problem-solving. It encompasses skills such as memory, attention, reasoning, and language comprehension.

Emotional development involves the understanding and management of emotions, as well as the development of empathy and self-awareness.

Social development refers to the acquisition of social skills and the ability to interact with others, including forming relationships, cooperating, and understanding social norms.

Language development involves the acquisition and mastery of language skills, including listening, speaking, reading, and writing. These five areas of development are interconnected and crucial for a child’s overall growth and well-being.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence entails the capacity to identify, comprehend, and regulate both one’s own emotions and those of others. It encompasses the awareness of how emotions influence thoughts and actions, as well as the ability to navigate interpersonal dynamics with empathy and understanding.

Cultivating emotional intelligence equips individuals to communicate effectively, manage stressors more skillfully, and foster healthier relationships, both personally and professionally. This vital skill set empowers individuals to navigate the intricacies of human interaction with resilience and insight.

Key components of emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence comprises five core elements essential for understanding and managing emotions effectively:

  1. Self-awareness: This involves recognizing and understanding one’s own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, values, and goals. Self-aware individuals are attuned to their feelings and how they influence their thoughts and behaviors.
  2. Self-regulation: Self-regulation refers to the ability to control and manage one’s emotions, impulses, and reactions in various situations. It involves techniques such as impulse control, adaptability, resilience, and the ability to stay calm under pressure.
  3. Empathy: Empathy is the capacity to understand and share the feelings of others. It involves perspective-taking, listening attentively, and being able to recognize and respond to the emotions of others with sensitivity and understanding.
  4. Social skills: Social skills encompass a range of abilities related to interpersonal interactions and communication. These skills include effective communication, conflict resolution, cooperation, leadership, and the ability to build and maintain relationships.
  5. Motivation: Motivation refers to the drive and passion to pursue goals with energy and persistence. Emotionally intelligent individuals are often intrinsically motivated, setting and working towards meaningful goals while being resilient in the face of setbacks.

These five core elements collectively form the foundation of emotional intelligence, enabling individuals to navigate complex social interactions, manage stress, and cultivate fulfilling relationships both personally and professionally.

Children who learn emotional intelligence enjoy a happier life

Hopefully, this page has helped you learn how to use these resources. After trying some of these skills, if your family needs more help regulating emotions, we invite you to search Anchor Light Therapy Collective’s website to find a child therapist who can provide professional assistance.




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