It’s so important for young kids to learn about their big feelings, but it can be hard to know how to do that. A lot of parents (and sometimes caregivers) feel like they don’t really know how to help their kids with their emotions.
They might not have learned about their own emotions when they were growing up. Or had a model that could positively guide them.
These activities for emotions and feelings for preschoolers bring art, songs, discussion, and stories together, to help kids experience their big emotions in practical ways.
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Before You Begin Working With Arts and Crafts and Feelings
I want to give you a bit of a pep talk slash reality check here friend.
This applies to both teachers, parents, and caregivers before going into these emotions activities.
Where are you in your life? If you’re angry, sad, emotional, stressed, overwhelmed, or anything that might not allow you to feel calm or present, let’s take a beat and get to calm and present first before launching into working with any of these arts and crafts. The child you’re working with is sensitive to body language, facial features, and can sense that something is off (if it is).
I’m a big believer in teaching yourself the necessary tools to navigate the challenges of big feelings first.
As someone who grew up in a family system that minimized feelings and often heard phrases like “oh you have such an overactive imagination” or “you’ve always been a highly emotional child” and my favorite “don’t cry it’s going to be okay” (how confusing is that message!), my own relationship and journey in understanding what I was feeling and how to express it was (and can still be) very challenging.
If talking about and identifying feelings and emotions is easy for you, READ ON my friend.
If you’re not quite ready, don’t stress.
I highly encourage you to reach out to a qualified mental health professional to help you gain some knowledge and access tools that will help you feel centered and ready to teach these concepts.
If you’re somewhere in between – or dealing with a toddler with big feelings I highly suggest you check out my other post about Toddler aggressive behaviors .
It’s hard to teach kids about their feelings, especially when they’re so young. These activities will help your child learn to identify and express their emotions in healthy ways.
Better Help is a great tool to connect you with a qualified mental health professional as well.
What are Different Emotions?
Simply put, whenever we feel anything, it’s an emotion.
I think for many adults, we have grown up confusing our reactions to the emotions.
So for example, sadness is not crying.
Sadness and the feeling of it is somewhere in your body and crying is how your body is, quite simply, getting it out.
That feeling, whether it be a tightness in your chest, a tension in your shoulders, or an ache in your belly (or something else entirely)…THAT is sadness.
The five main emotions are:
Happiness, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear.
If you’ve ever seen the movie, Inside Out, then you’ll remember how all five manifest themselves and work together (and sometimes against each other ) and usually there is only one primary emotion (metaphorically speaking) driving us at any moment. Euphoric, as well as aggressive child behaviors are bound to come about one at a time.
Check out the clip above that tests your knowledge of feelings.
This is all true for kids (and the whole family) too.
If your child needs help identifying the emotions let’s start with some of these feelings activities and emotion games:
When we first introduced this game/topic to our kids it was just after Easter so we had tons of eggs laying around. It’s a perfect intro to some of the feelings we’re talking about.
DGAF mom note – We created a game out of these, where we each were “dealt” two different emotions (in our family of 4, there are 8 cards). We went around the circle and told a story about when we felt the emotion we were dealt.
Later in the day, when I got frustrated about something that happened when making dinner, my oldest went and grabbed the cards and shared “mom, let me show you what you’re feeling!”
It also helped my 4-year old tell my husband that he’s “angry” instead of simply crying. “I’m like the angry robot, Daddy!” The sad face and angry face are helpful tools for kids to learn to articulate different feelings.
I definitely recommend printing these on card stock to keep them around for feelings to come. Also, suffice to say that these work wonderfully well as Mother’s Day crafts for kids activities too!
Depending on the time of year (Christmas in July anyone?) this little snowman is a fun craft to help your kids explore different facial expressions
This is another fun way to explore different faces with these printables. This is a really fun matching game.
How Preschool Children Express Their Emotions
Preschool-aged children will often express feelings by:
– Acting out the emotion (e.g., throwing a fit when angry)
– Physically showing the emotion (e.g., crying, laughing, or being quiet when sad)
– Talking about the emotion (e.g., telling a parent or caregiver what is wrong)
– Drawing or painting about the emotion (e.g., drawing a sad picture when feeling sad)
– Playing games that involve emotion (e.g., playing tag when feeling scared)
Pretend to play re-enacting the situation or the emotion. A simple game can be eye-opening as well and help a child explain their basic feelings. This is best done with a buddy or partner too! This way, they can not only learn to express but also see the emotions of other kids.
By sharing the experience with other kids, the learning process becomes so much more effective. This post about back to school easy crafts for kids outlines several more activities you can have the kids try. Not only will they be able to explore craft ideas which they can learn from, they’ll also get new ways to explore emotions with their peers at school. Hoorah for social interactions!
As a caregiver, it is important to be aware of how your child feels and more specifically how they express their emotions and to help them understand and label their feelings healthily.
When children can identify their emotions, they are better able to manage them.
A Word About the Pandemic
My boys were 3 and 5 when we first went into lockdown. It’s no question to me that there has been a delay in their social skills, and their social-emotional learning has been playing catch up since things began opening up.
I know they won’t always feel shy or nervous around big groups of people (to be honest, as things open up I too am nervous). But this is another good reason to help your children be able to articulate and identify their own feelings, as a way of finding that resilience as we enter back into a post-pandemic world.
Including a curriculum and lesson plans, either at home or school filled with social-emotional activities will help children learn to identify and express their emotions in different ways.
How are Emotions and Moods Different
An emotion is a short-lived reaction to a situation.
Moods, on the other hand, last much longer.
Think about the last time you were in a bad mood. It might have been after a fight with your partner, or maybe you’re just having an “off” day.
Bad moods can last for hours, days, or even weeks and may require more than a craft or activity to help find a regulation for a particular emotion.
In some cases, especially for young children, you may want to consult with a qualified professional to be sure you have the tools to handle these moods. There may be medical reasons for these moods.
This is an easy craft exploring feelings using paper plates and a great addition to all the tools you’re building.
Feelings Crafts for Preschoolers
I’ve pulled together several crafts, activities, and games intended to help you and your child navigate the language and tools necessary to appropriately identify and then find a regulation for their feelings.
This craft is the perfect way for your child to explore how someone else feels and mirror that.
These are adorable and can be made in a variety of different colors.
Adding a bunch of textures and items can help a child identify and explain their current emotion.
Activities for Exploring Feelings
It’s no question that movement and feelings are deeply connected both for kids and adults.
In nature, famously, zebra’s have been observed “shaking” after a close encounter with a predator. The “Zebra Shake” is one of many tools the zebra does to manage stress.
Getting children to “shake” off their stress and emotions is a fantastic way to help them.
Dance Your Emotions
When we’re feeling down, one of the best things we can do is put on some happy music and just let go.
Not only will this help to raise our mood, but it’s also a fantastic way to connect with our children and help them understand and express their emotions.
This song is super catchy and will get even the grumpiest of toddlers moving and shaking!
If putting on a video isn’t in the cards, simply crank up the music and have a dance party in the car, in your kitchen, or classroom.
This story bots emotions song is both catchy and informational.
For the Sesame street fans, this is a really fun video your kids will love.
Draw Your Emotions
For some kids, an art activity will help them feel better.
This doesn’t have to be a complicated activity, simply provide some blank paper and crayons and encourage your child to draw how they’re feeling.
You might be surprised at what you see!
These coloring pages are awesome and a good start for some children. These may work awesomely well as Father’s Day craft ideas too.
Get Creative with Other Art Materials
Playdough, paints, a sensory bin, or even a bathtub can be an awesome place for children to explore their emotions.
Another way to get creative with a printable feelings sheet.
The Connection between Water Play and Feelings
For many young children, water play can be an incredibly relaxing and even meditative experience. In fact when my kids tend to have had a bad day I’ve come to learn that bath time is the perfect time to help them express emotions in a particular way.
The sound of running water, the feeling of being surrounded by water, and even the simple act of washing their hands can help children to feel calmer and more in control.
If you have access to a bathtub, this can be an excellent way for children to explore their emotions. The Busy Toddler TK LINK famously dumps pom poms and some random kitchen items into a bathtub (and also suggests giving your kids a bath at any time of the day!)
For us, in Southern California, we’ve enjoyed this water table for (seriously) 6 years. I still joke with my husband that it’s the best $40 we ever spent. TK LINK
Fill it with water and different objects or toys (dinosaurs, trucks, kitchen tools) and let your child play.
If my boys get bored with this I usually switch it up and introduce some foaming soap for an extra bit of fun. tk link
Here are some other great ideas:
Here are some more awesome water play activities from hands-on as we grow and Jamie Reimer.
Affirmations for Kids
When we’re feeling down, it can be really helpful to have some positive words to help us feel better. The Science of affirmations is vast and convincing.
This is yet another tool that can create lasting positive feelings in your kids.
These printable affirmation cards are a creative way to get you and them thinking more positively and provide a safe way to think positively.
If printables aren’t working, simply create a note on your phone and read it with your kid every night (this is what we’ve been doing for a few months and my kids seem to really enjoy it).
Creating a family mantra is another fantastic way to set the tone for your kids’ emotional regulation.
Recommended Books About Emotions and Feelings for Kids
Helping our kids to understand and cope with their emotions is one of the most important things we can do as caregivers.
for many kids, identifying themselves (or their complicated emotions) can be done more easily when they see other kids going through similar challenges.
The following books are great tools to help you open up these discussions with your child.
This book now has 1.2 million copies in print. It’s accepted by parents, love by children, and is a journey worth diving into.
By Cain, Janan
This is such a great book and one that older kids and younger kids both really enjoy.
By Parr, Todd
This is one of my boy’s favorite books, and they will sometimes refer to it in their activities, i.e. in the aftermath of an argument ” You spilled my bucket!”
Read more books about emotions at TK link here.
Make a Worry Doll
A worry doll is a doll that you can talk to when you are worried. They will listen to all of your worries and then they will take them away, so they won’t bother you anymore!
For some children, the simple act of giving their worries to a different “thing” or “place” is helpful.
Create a set of worry dolls for different worries if you must. These are made using a large craft stick.
For some kindergarten children, this is a useful way to anticipate those early days of childhood. You’ll also want to read this post about what to say on first day of kindergarten as it has key tips that’ you’ll be glad to have read.
Using a dedicated stuffed animal is another awesome activity that you can use to help children get the feelings out of their bodies and give them to something else.
Calm Down Routines
For some kids, their emotions can be very difficult to tap into when they’re wound up too high, having temper tantrums, or even cycling through a range of different emotions. Exercise and healthy food are great ways to help them get some of their energy out of their body but there is also a time for calming down.
Practicing breathing routines, yoga, and creating calm down spaces or calm down jars is an additional tool to help young children deal with their emotions.
Simple Breathing Routine – Imagine your finger is a candle. Instruct your child to slowly blow out the flame with a deep breath taken slowly and exhaled slowly.
Alternatively, teach your child to slowly move their finger away from their face, while continuing to focus on it. Then bring it closer again, following it the whole time.
Here’s some great calm down yoga:
How to make a calming sensory Jar
Talking with your kids about emotions and emotional regulation, in THEORY, should be pretty easy. But more and more parents are recognizing that we often lack
the tools and language to help our kids understand and respond to their emotions.
This post on how to navigate the challenge of kids not listening (and more!) goes into some of the reasons children express these physical forms of expressing emotions. (and also how to deal with it).
Putting the work upfront to help kids learn self-regulation in healthy, age-appropriate ways, provides lasting results. Emotions and emotional regulation can be a lifelong journey for many.
But introducing this topic at a young age can foster communication in new and exciting ways.