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Teaching Emotional Regulation Using the Feelings Wheel for Kids

Anchor Light Therapy Collective

Oct 12, 2022

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

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. It can be an overwhelming experience for children to identify their 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 is a variety of different wheels that can be used, depending on the ages of your kids and their developmental needs. Younger kids might appreciate having a feelings wheel with pictures to represent emotions. While 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.

Examples of situations to use the emotion wheel with children

Situation #1: During an argument

It is nearly dinner time when suddenly you hear yelling coming 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 be used to shift the conversation, helping each sibling share what they are feeling. This can also help them be more empathetic about their sibling’s side of the story.

Situation #2: After a loss

Children grieve losses in their own 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 a range of 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.

Situation #3: 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 be used to help your daughter express her emotions. By spending time talking about her emotions, you will help her feel heard and understood.

Situation #4: 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 not only talk through what emotions were experienced but also about where they felt the emotions in their body.

Situation #5: 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 what they are feeling. Adults can participate in using the emotion wheel to search for that perfect word too!

Helpful tips when using the emotion wheel

1) Try using the emotion wheel in different ways

On some days, your daughter might point to the word that describes how she is feeling. On another day, you might ask your son to draw a picture that represents the feeling word he picked out.

2) Explore identities

Use the emotion wheel to help your kids explore their identities. Even at a young age, kids are aware of what it is like to live in this world. Give them an opportunity to talk about it, using the feelings wheel to guide your discussion.

3) 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.

4) 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 appropriately express emotions.

5) Use emotional categories

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

6) Dive deeper into specific emotions

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

7) 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 emotions, parents might consider also providing their kids with a list of appropriate ways to express what they are feeling.

The importance of teaching your children emotional regulation

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

When kids don’t learn how to regulate their emotions, they might experience behavioral challenges because they don’t know what to do with their feelings. When you see a child “acting out,” 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 on their own.

Children Who Learn Emotional Intelligence Enjoy A Happier Life

Hopefully, this page has helped you learn ways to start using these resources. After trying some of these skills, if you find that your family is needing more help with regulating emotions, we invite you to search Anchor Light Therapy Collective’s website to find a therapist who can provide professional help.

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