One day while I was brainstorming activities I could use to help my tween and teen clients review feelings and emotions, I thought I had come up with the “perfect” idea. I was already creating flashcards for my younger clients, which were actually index cards with magazine pictures of different feelings faces and body language poses that I was planning to use to TEACH emotion identification. I figured, why not let my tweens and teens help me create the flashcards as a way to REVIEW feelings?!
I was excited! Not only had I come up with this bright idea to teach and review emotions, but I was going to get some help creating my flashcards. (Hey, I’m human! I need help too!) Next step, put my plan into action.
I visited a middle school that day and explained my plan to the 13-year-old sitting beside me. She was up for it. Yay! She thought it was a really neat idea, and she was especially psyched that she was going to be helping me create something I planned to use for many years to come with the younger kids.
So we began.
First we glued various pictures onto one side of each index card. She laughed at some of them, occasionally noting that some of the pictures were really funny. After all, who wouldn’t think that a dog wearing glasses wasn’t funny?
Then it came time to write the feeling name on the back of each index card. The first few were easy: a smiling child might be feeling happy, the dog wearing glasses might be feeling smart. The clown might be feeling silly. Then all of a sudden she was stumped. She showed me a picture of a teenager who was portraying that she was scared.
“Jealous?” she questioned.
I prompted her to look more closely at the picture, paying attention to the way the person’s body looked and to what clues the person’s face was showing us.
She really didn’t know. I felt terrible! Here I had assumed that by the old age of thirteen, that this would be a review on something fairly easy. Talk about an eye-opening experience.
What was even more eye-opening was that I soon learned that only maybe half of the 12 to 18-year-olds I worked with were able to accurately identify the emotions on the flashcards – never less their own emotions. And about 25 percent of adults I came in contact with just in everyday life weren’t quite sure either. I felt awful! How could I not have realized that even teens and grown-ups occasionally need some emotion identification education too?
Since then, I teach emotion identification and expression like crazy! After all, how can one be expected to regulate their emotions if they weren’t even quite sure what they’re feeling in the first place?
What’s the big deal about learning about feelings?
Now when a child or teenager begins therapy with me, my first task is always to assess whether or not they are able to identify feelings. Dependent on the age, I might use flashcards, workbooks, feelings charts, magazines, mirrors, games, or whatever else I’ve gotten my hands on that might be relevant.
Here’s the thing: Feelings are important! They give us information about what we’re experiencing and help us know how to react. But not only is it important to label how we’re feeling, it’s just as crucial to be able to at least get a sense of how those around us might feel.
Being aware of our emotions helps us to build better relationships, whether it be at home, at school, at work, or anywhere else out there in the real world. Knowing and being able to label our feelings help us to talk about them and describe them more clearly. They resolve conflicts better. They help us communicate more effectively with those around us.
Just being able to name what we’re feeling actually helps us move past difficult feelings more easily. In order to be able to modulate and regulate our feelings, we must first be able to label our different internal experiences!
Think about a young child, if you will, who is having a tantrum on the kitchen floor all because you told them that they couldn’t have that yummy looking cake setting on the counter until after dinner. They’re not tantruming because it’s fun and who doesn’t like to throw a good tantrum every now and then. No, they’re actually having a really difficult time regulating their emotions because they really wanted that cake and right now they can’t have it. They’re feeling really disappointed. They’re feeling very frustrated. Because they might not have the words yet to identify and express their emotions appropriately, they’re doing the only thing they know how to do right now in this moment: express their disappointment and frustration by acting out.
What can we do to help children (and ourselves) learn how to identify feelings?
As a therapist, I utilize a number of tools and strategies to help teach clients about feelings. I make feelings cards, I have kids make faces in the mirror, I use special feelings games and workbooks, and so on.
One of the easiest and most convenient ways, though, to teach children how to label their feelings and be able to more accurately identify how others might feel is through the use of apps.
Years ago I didn’t have a really cool smartphone to help me out. (I think I probably had one of those awesome flip phones though.) Now most of us have a handy-dandy phone with access to tons and tons of awesome apps we can use that are supposed to make our lives easier and more productive (or to help kill boredom when we need it to).
There are so many feelings and emotion apps on iPhones and Androids, I don’t even want to begin trying to count them. Some of them are very simplistic, while others are much more complex. Some are for children and others are for us grown ups. Some cost money, though most are free. Some apps are really, really good; some apps are pretty useless and not worth your time.
They’re not all for learning how to identify emotions either. There are also some great apps out there that help us track our feelings from day to day – an especially useful tool for anyone struggling with a mood disorder like depression or bipolar disorder.
What are these apps?!
I’m going to save some of you the trouble of searching through all the various apps that support emotion awareness, though you’re obviously more than welcome to look and try any or all of them out for yourselves. These apps are my favorites, ones that I use in counseling kids and adults. They’re apps that I use for my own children, as well as ones that I use for myself – because hey, I’m not about to recommend something for you or your kids that I wouldn’t be willing to try and use for myself and my own family!
First, for the kids…
Emotions, Feelings and Colors! is one of my 3-year-old’s favorite apps right now. Designed for kids in pre-K and Kindergarten, kids can watch short animated stories and identify what emotion the characters are feeling. In addition to that, the app also suggests some best tactics to help the characters work through their emotional situations! Love it!
Emotions from I Can Do Apps
I actually have quite the collection of these emotions apps from I Can Do Apps. I use Emotions, Emotions 2, Emotions Flashcards, and Baby Emotions both professionally and at home. The I Can Do Apps, in general, offer apps to teach and reinforce speech and language development. The collection of the four emotions apps cost $4.99, though you can also purchase each one separately.
All of these apps help children practice emotion identification and develop understanding and interpretation of feelings. To clarify the differences in the apps, though:
Emotions helps kids identify different facial expressions using real faces and tests their understanding of emotions. This pack only includes the most basic emotions – happy, sad, scared, surprised, and angry.
Emotions 2 does the same thing as Emotions, but it includes more complex emotions, including tired, calm, grumpy, excited, proud, sick, bored, and frustrated.
The Emotions Flashcards app is exactly what it sounds like. It includes the emotions happy, sad, scared, surprised, angry, tired, grumpy, excited, proud, sick, bored, frustrated, and calm.
Baby Emotions is more for toddler aged children, though it could also potentially be used by parents who have difficulty identifying emotions in their infants and young children. The app includes baby faces portraying the emotions happy, sad, scared, surprised, tired, and calm.
Feelings with Milo is an emotional literacy app that teaches younger kids about feelings by helping them understand and learn to manage their emotions. It also lets kids keep record of their feelings everyday by giving them a chance to identify the mood they are feeling. This is a pretty cool app, and its graphics make it quite inviting for kids to use.
Feel Electric! is brought to you by The Electric Company. Remember them? Feel Electric! offers engaging tools to help kids explore emotional vocabulary and self-expression. You can find games, a story maker, a glossary of 50 emotion words and definitions, and even a digital diary to help your kids track their moods. This app is especially good for elementary age but can also be appropriate for tweens and teens that are having difficulty identifying and expressing their emotions.
Now, for the teens and grown-ups…
Moodtrack Diary is my absolute favorite mood tracker! You can find it in the iTunes store, as well as at Google Play for Android. There are actually two versions, one that is a “social” mood tracker, which anonymously posts your current mood for other anonymous users to see – this is especially good if you’re looking for encouragement and want to connect anonymously with others out there in cyberspace.
I personally prefer the “private” mood tracker myself. The private version has a setting in which you’re able to share anonymously but it also allows you to keep your moods private and only for your eyes. The app works offline and syncs when you’re online if you turn on sync in the settings. You can track your mood as often or as little as you want, and it literally only takes a few seconds. You simply type in how you’re feeling, then you’re asked to rate your mood on a scale on 1 to 5, with 5 being the most positive mood. Then the program plots your moods on a graph, making it super easy to see patterns and mood swings.
This is the mood tracker I actually recommend the most to clients. It is not only simple and user-friendly, but if the user desires, they can share their graphed moods with their counselor or a good friend. All you have to do is provide them with your special designated password and they can log on to a computer to see how you’ve been feeling. On Touch ID devices, you can also set up a fingerprint lock. This app gets an A+ from this therapist!
Emotionary by Funny Feelings is another awesome app for kids and adults who are looking for the right word to describe just how they might be feeling. It not only includes a definition for common and funny feeling words (like “happy as Larry,” which apparently means you’re feeling extremely happy), but it also includes emoticons associated with most feelings.
What I like best though is how the app takes you step by step in finding the perfect word for how you’re feeling. First you pick a primary emotion (anger, anticipation, fear, joy, or sadness). Next you pick the category of feelings to find your perfect word. For instance, if you’re feeling sadness, you’re then given the categories alienated, disappointed, distressed, embarrassed, sad, and vulnerable. After choosing the category that best describes how you’re feeling, it takes you to a list of words (and definitions) which fall under that category.
Say I’m feeling embarrassed, so I click on that category. I’m then given a list of a list of over 20 words that I can choose to specifically identify my feeling, such as foolish, guilty, humiliated, mortified, and uncomfortable.
Not only is this app great for finding the perfect word to describe how you’re feeling, it’s perfect for all you writers out there as well!
Just a word of warning though… There are two versions of this – a free version and an inexpensive paid version. If you have kids who will be using the app, be aware that there may some words you’d rather them not see or be saying (such as “happy as a pig in sh**”).
Okay, just one more favorite of mine! Monster Feelings is like a more detailed version of Emotionary, only with MONSTERS! Look up descriptions, examples, and “energy” level of various feelings AND find a monster feelings face to go along with that feeling. This app can be used with kids, teens, and adults. I think this app is a lot of fun!
Regardless of whether you try these apps out for yourself (or your kids) or whether you search for others on your own, I really do encourage you to at least check emotion apps out. Learning how to identify and express emotions is key to being able to start regulating emotions more effectively. After all, how can you adequately express how you feel if you’re not even sure what you’re actually feeling in the first place? 🙂