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How to Get Your Toddler Talking About Their Emotions.

Dealing with young children can be frustrating, because they tend to act out in ways that we would never be able to. They scream and throw temper tantrums over things that seem small. It makes us want to throw tantrums too. So, how do we help them do something else?

This blog posts recounts my experience with teaching several toddlers how to use talk about their emotions rather than having dramatic out-bursts when things bubble over. This post may contain an affiliate link, however they are still products I wholeheartedly believe in.

Kids gain so much information from books, even when they appear to be distracted. Toddlers in particular will grasp knowledge from hearing books read allowed, even when they are across the room investigating a toy. Our Class always reads one book during circle time, and allows children to read the circle time book, or other related stories as part of their free-choice times as well.

The first thing we had to do, was give the children the vocabulary that they would need in order to begin grasping the concepts of the unit. To start off, we read this book:

"What if I Know My Feelings" by Michelle Nelson-Schmidt. Cover Art.

Available through Usborne publishing, this book offers simple language, colorful images, and a repetitive storyline. The monsters expose children to several feelings by name, giving them the necessary tools to start talking about them.

You can shop this title here:

Following this lesson, there are many different directions you can go. Whenever possible, you should let the children ask the questions they are most curious about and let the lesson be led that way. Throughout the course of the week, we analyzed where our feelings come from, how other people react to their feelings, and even what we can do when people are experiencing extreme emotion.

We considered, and would recommend, some of the from the same publishers as a continuation:

Since learning to talk about our emotions can be useful for our entire lives, we were ready to invest fairly heavily in our curriculum for this unit. In addition to the books featured already, here are some amazing titles that you can use to bring up conversations about feelings with young minds:

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day In My Heart: A Book of Feelings (Growing Hearts) When Sophie’s Feelings Are Really, Really Hurt Grumpy Monkey’s Little Book of Grumpiness Should I Share My Ice Cream? (An Elephant and Piggie Book)

If you aren’t ready to invest in books specifically about feelings, try reading any of your child’s existing favorites. You can discuss with them what the character’s are feeling. This can be based on the illustration, or the situation.

Turning things into games is a sure-fire way to get children excited about them. In the case of my twin four-year-old boys, they love all games that require movement and high energy. The first game we played, was to make faces on colored balloons. We gave each color an emotion and drew a face on it. They then had to run around to find a certain face, and eventually they had to knock all the “thumbs-down” (which means negative to them) feelings out of a box we taped on the floor with the “thumbs-up” ones.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on

We played similar games in the pool and the yard, with some faces that I cut out of sheets of foam. At first, they had to just find “the sad face,” but as we learned more about what triggers out emotions, what might triggers others, or what might be able to change a persons emotions, their prompts got a little bit harder. “Can you show me a face that says how you would feel if someone stole your toy?” Later on we put the faces in a cloth bag, and they had to pull one out (without knowing what it would be) and show me their own version of the same face.

If you choose to do the same faces as we did, consider this foam set from amazon, or else consider doing the activity with paper plates, painted rocks, clay, or any other favorite crafting material.

The only thing those buys love more than games with loads of movement is a seriously messy art project. They love painting, glitter glue, and anything that manages to encompass both is sure to be a hit. Our first art project in the unit, was going off of the idea that different feelings could be shown by using different colors. We put a few spots of paint on a paper, and they we put it in a Ziplock and mixed it around. Eventually, what they said we had was exactly right: “a mess.” We talked about how sometimes if we are feeling too much at once, or we are dealing with too many things at once, we could feel like a mess. Then, we added some glitter. We called the glitter happiness, and we smeared it around until all the glitter was spread out and there was a little bit of happiness in the every spot on the picture.

Eventually we ended up with this bag. They loved the smearing, so we extended the activity into a fine motor one, by trying to practice drawing the shape of different facial elements in the paint.

We also received a kiwi crate that same day, which included a really awesome rainbow pillow to make. (If you’re interested in checking out a kiwi crate, my link is The kids created the pillow, and then we added it to their tee-pee. The tee-pee was an old birthday gift that had gotten tucked into a closet and forgotten about, but it could have been anything else too. It could have been the closet, or a box, or a tent that they made behind the couch. The important thing, was that we turned it into a place where they could handle their feelings. We filled it with cozy things, and things that made them happy. This became their “calm down corner.” It’s a strategy that allows them to cope with their feelings all on their own. As the week went on, we created a few different things that could also help us handle our emotions, and they added them to their tent.

We created this super easy stress-ball with materials we already had: a balloon, and some fully engorged water beads (from last weeks sensory table).

Here’s how:

  • Pick a balloon
  • Grab a funnel, or an empty and waiting-to-be-recycled bottle.
  • Use whichever apparatus you chose above, to get the beads into the balloon. Stuff it so that it stretches just a tiny-bit
  • Tie it closed, and enjoy the feeling of squishing it around.

You can also make your own calm-down bottle (or sensory bottle). Ours are available on Etsy, if you choose not to make your own. `In my own house, my daughter knows that when she is asked to take a break, she has to stay still until her glitter all settles to the bottom (it takes roughly 2 minutes, which is just about age-appropriate for her). The twins put both in their tent so that they knew where they were when they needed them.

The best way to make the lessons long-lasting is to get the parents involved, and to bring the lesson to the things they are doing outside of the classroom instead of only discussing it with their teacher. For this lesson some of the things that the kids got to do with mom and dad to help continue learning about emotions were:

  • Watch the movie “Inside Out” for the visual benefit of understanding how our emotions can control us
  • Gift something to a neighbor or relative. We made cards for the neighbors and talked about how the neighbors would be so “happy” and so “surprised” when they found the card.
  • Ask other people how they are feeling, and maybe even what made them feel that way.

All in all, I personally believe that everyone could use a little practice talking about their emotions. Teaching kids early on how they can use their words to explain how they are feeling and get other people to empathize with them and understand them, will help them to work through their problems. Having them focused on asking me how I was feeling, also made me really evaluate how I was feeling, why, and what we could all do about it.

We spent a whole week focusing our learning on activities that were based on and in our emotional well-being. We helped kids learn to communicate, and at the end of the week one of them even said to me, “Ms. H, I don’t think I can do this right now, there’s too many things for me to look at.”

Can you imagine if every frustrated kid who’s parents were going through a divorce at home, or who had some ADHD, could tell their teacher that they were simply overwhelmed? What would it save us all, and how long will it take us to get there?

Use any of these tactics at home? Let us know what you liked and didn’t by commenting here, or on our other online profiles.

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