Social emotional learning is a key component in teaching young children. You’ll likely find that a good part of your day is spent educating your classroom students about how to recognize, manage and express healthy emotions and feelings. Below are engaging ways to teach children about emotions in the classroom.
Teach Children about Emotions in the Classroom
Why do students need help learning how to express healthy emotions and feelings?
Many students learn healthy emotional habits and ways of expressing their feelings at home, in their interactions with their family and friends. Children tend to pick these things up naturally by watching how others respond and mimicking their behavior. Many are active in their churches, community centers, sports, and hobbies, in which they learn how to interact with friends and neighbors.
But what about the students who don’t have such opportunities?
It’s up to us, as educators, to model, teach, and encourage them to practice healthy emotional responses to everyday situations and events! Helping children to express their feelings and handle difficult situations with calm is our ultimate goal.
1. Teach Students about Identifying Different Emotions
Children should be taught the language necessary to label and identify the different emotions they may experience. We need to let them know that feeling different emotion is normal. By giving them the vocabulary needed to describe how they’re feeling, you are encouraging them to express themselves productively.
- Recognizing Facial Expressions and Body Language: Children need to learn how to identify their own emotions, as well as others. One way to do this is by learning to pay attention to their own body signals, such as a frown and queasy stomach when nervous, or balled fists and tight shoulders when angry. Once they can recognize it in themselves, they can pick up on facial expressions and body language of others and then learn to react accordingly. In your morning meetings, perhaps spend five minutes modeling and discussing different emotional states.
- Clip Chart: One way to encourage recognition of feelings is to provide a visual reference for them to use. A clip chart helps students to recognize and identify how they are feeling. They simply place a clip on the chart in the space that shows how they are feeling.
- Play Games: One fun way to introduce, teach, and practice the names of emotions is to play an engaging game with students, such as these emoji card games, matching games, and board game.
2. Teach Students about the Healthy Expression of Emotions
We all feel the full range of emotions. Wherever they are on the happy or sad, engaged or bored, proud or embarrassed, ends of the spectrum, we can help them express those emotions in a safe and healthy way. The classroom is a great place to learn and practice!
- “I Feel…” Statements: To learn how to express their feelings appropriately, students need to be taught how to use “I feel…” statements. Instead of screaming insults at another child who broke his crayon, little Johnny can say “I feel sad that you broke my crayon”, opening up the communication between the two students. This allows for healthy conflict resolution.
- Coping with Extreme Emotions: Sometimes we must step in and help kids deal with the emotional roller coasters they sometimes find themselves on. Their extreme emotions get out of control and they need help finding their way back to calmness. We must realize that addressing the whole brain is key to understanding how to help them best.
- Teaching Emotional Rights: It’s important for children to understand and assert their rights when it comes to emotions. This helps them maintain healthy boundaries with their friends and peers, and be respectful to teachers and adults.
3. Connect Experiences with Emotions
Children learn to embrace their emotional state by realizing that it is normal and ok to feel the way they do. It’s our job to give them opportunities to label their feelings correctly. Emotional memory is strong! We can harness that power by helping students connect their experiences in the classroom with their emotions. By recognizing and acknowledging their feelings during a learning activity or classroom event, we can increase the chances of it sticking in our students’ long-term memory.
- Journaling: Encouraging students to journal about their feelings is helpful. They express their feelings through writing about learning tasks, field trips, or school events. We often use this learning method in our classrooms for improving handwriting, spelling, vocabulary, and of course writing skills.
- Emotion Sort: Have students sort pictures of children with experiencing different emotions. They will gain practice recognizing facial expressions and body language and therefore, feel more confident understanding their own and others feelings.
4. Teach Students about Brain Biology
The human brain is a fascinating subject, even for the youngest learners. Teach them what the parts of the brain are called, and talk about how different parts of the brain controls their emotions and feelings.
- Brain Craftivity: Try this fun craft activity that teaches children about the parts of the brain that control the emotions.
- Upstairs and Downstairs: To try to explain how the parts of our brain work together, and how the emotions part can sometimes take over, try explaining it in terms they can understand, such as the “upstairs and downstairs.”
5. Encourage Students to have a Positive Mindset
Self-talk and self-motivation skills that are positive and encouraging will help your students succeed, and create a more positive classroom environment overall. You can teach them ways to feel good and focus on positivity. Here are ways to influence them to have a good attitude at school.
- Create a Vision Board: Vision boards are used in all types of professions, from business to graphic design. They can be used in the classroom too! Help children visualize what they desire and what makes them happy. When they have an image in their mind of what makes them thrive, they are more likely to reach their own goals, and ultimately succeed in the classroom.
- My Heart Map: This creative activity encourages children to thoughtfully consider what makes them happy and depict it on paper. It’s a great way to help them own and recognize their emotions and focus more on having a positive outlook.
- Teach Growth Mindset: Any lesson about emotions and feelings can easily be integrated into a growth mindset curriculum plan. The two go together like peas and carrots!
Resources for Teaching Emotions
Emotions SEL Unit
The Emotions: Social Emotional Learning Unit includes 5 detailed, research-based lessons. It is filled with hands-on and mindful activities that teach children how about how their brain controls their emotions, how to identify and express how they are feeling, and ways to encourage a positive mindset.
FREE Emotions Journal
Social Emotional Learning Curriculum
The mind + heart Social Emotional Learning Curriculum includes 8 units with 5+ detailed, character education, research-based LESSONS filled with TONS of hands-on and mindful ACTIVITIES that encourage children to express themselves and build important emotional and social skills.
FREE Social Emotional Learning Email Series
Sign up for the social emotional learning email course filled with tips to get you started, lesson and activity ideas, PLUS tons of FREE resources you can access right away. Everything you need to teach social skills and emotional literacy in the classroom!