A Better Way to Teach Kids About Emotions

How many emotions can you name? According to researcher, Brené Brown, the average adult can only name three emotions: happiness, sadness, and anger. A recent study indicates there are actually only four basic emotions to begin with: happiness, sadness, anger, and fear. From this vantage, we’re getting it 75% right!

However, in my experience of teaching emotional intelligence skills to children, it’s clear that the ability to distinguish nuanced emotions is a powerful tool in boosting resilience. For example, when children are aware they are jealous as opposed to just sad, the ability to process the emotion and make choices about their reaction increases.

In examining resources to help kids identify their emotions, I came across a variety of “feeling charts.” Pasted below is a typical example of a feelings chart.

Feelings Chart

What I notice is that the chart targets very young children who are visual learners. The chart requires discerning among sometimes subtly different expressions and committing those to memory without an anchor or any other context from which to learn. Furthermore, to be useful, you have to translate the expression to a human equivalent. In short, while these charts can be a good starting point, they also have a lot of room for improvement–especially as kids get older. By the way, I didn’t find any charts for older children or adults.

I don’t have a complete alternative for these feelings charts as of yet. But as a first step, check out the table below including emotions (with a tween twist) as well as a character pulled from pop (and kid) culture that embodies the emotion. This “feelings table” strives to engage children with characters they are hopefully familiar with and context that will both help in comprehension and retention. The table still needs visual cues, but before creating the art, it would be great to get some feedback.

If you’re a teacher, parent, or professional, what would you add to this list? What do think would work with a child and what would not? How can we add visual cues to this table to make it valuable for children? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Also, feel free to use this table at home or work, as you feel appropriate. Let us know what the kids think!

EmotionCharacterSentence
AbandonedLokiI’m feeling ABANDONED like Loki, who never could live up to his family’s expectations.
At FaultClay JensenI’m feeling AT FAULT, like Clay Jensen, who can’t get over having let someone down.
BlushNeville LongbottomI’m feeling myself BLUSH the way it feels when Neville gets compared to the one and only Harry Potter.
BummedSpongebob SquarepantsI’m feeling BUMMED, like when Spongebob gets in trouble at work.
Can-DoBrian GriffinI’m feeling a CAN-DO attitude, the way Brian Griffin believes in himself even though he’s just a dog.
ColdElsaI’m feeling COLD, like Elsa when everybody told her to hide who she really is.
ConnectedAugustus WatersI’m feeling CONNECTED, like Augustus Waters, when he realized he had found someone he could really understand.
CuriousHermione GrangerI’m feeling CURIOUS like Hermione Granger who lets her questions guide her to the right answers.
DarknessBatmanI’m feeling lost in DARKNESS, like Batman, who misses his family and sometimes feels alone.
DoneFrodoI’m feeling DONE, like Frodo when he has to fight his friends just to get the job finished.
Freaked OutPinocchioI’m feeling FREAKED OUT, like Pinocchio when he gets swallowed by the whale.
GivingKatniss EverdeenI’m feeling GIVING, like Katniss Everdeen, who would do anything for her family and friends.
GloomyEeyoreI’m feeling GLOOMY, like Eeyore when he’s lost his tail.
GrittyMichael JordanI’m feeling GRITTY like Michael Jordan when he said with determination, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Grossed OutStan MarshI’m feeling GROSSED OUT, like Stan, when he watches Cartman do something disgusting.
Hiding Under a RockAdeleI’m feeling like HIDING UNDER A ROCK, the way Adele felt when she didn’t give her best performance at the Grammy Awards and then said, “I was so embarrassed.”
InternalBella SwanI’m feeling INTERNAL right now, the way Bella Swan prefers to be quiet and alone rather than the center of attention.
KindRon WeasleyI’m feeling KIND, like Ron Weasley, who tries to be considerate to all his friends.
LameHarry PotterI’m feeling LAME, the way Harry Potter felt when he first got to Hogwarts, and Draco made fun of him.
LostFryI’m feeling LOST, like when Fry wasn’t sure what he was looking at.
OutsiderFrankenstein’s MonsterI’m feeling like an OUTSIDER, the way Frankenstein’s Monster felt when he left the laboratory and realized he didn’t fit in at all.
Over U TodayGrumpy CatI’m feeling like Grumpy Cat, who is just OVER U TODAY.
Owning ItRory GilmoreI’m feeling like OWNING IT, like Rory Gilmore does whenever she has to face something difficult and doesn’t let challenges get in her way.
PanickedFinnI’m feeling PANICKED, like Finn when his father was furious at him for messing up an entire Lego set.
RageDarth VadarI’m feeling RAGE like Darth Vadar when he found out Luke Skywalker kept his twin sister’s existence a secret.
Real LoveShrekI’m feeling REAL LOVE, the way Shrek feels when he meets Princess Fiona.
Shake It OffTaylor SwiftI’m feeling like giving all of my haters a free pass today, the way Taylor Swift decides to SHAKE IT OFF.
ShamefacedEleanor DouglasI’m feeling SHAMEFACED, like Eleanor Douglas, who had to deal with judgement from everyone in her life because she understands their feelings.
SmashThe HulkI’m feeling like I want to SMASH everything because people are making me angry right now.
Sorry“Sam” KingstonI’m feeling SORRY, like “Sam” Kingston, who keeps going back to the moment things went wrong and trying to make them better.
SuccessfulSuccess BabyI’m feeling SUCCESSFUL, like Success Baby, who is so glad he got something accomplished that he makes a powerful fist.
ThankfulC3POI’m feeling THANKFUL like C3PO whenever someone is polite to him.
Too perfectSherlock HolmesI’m feeling TOO PERFECT, like Sherlock Holmes, who always gets it right.
UnsureThomasI’m feeling UNSURE, like Thomas when he first found himself trapped in the maze of the Glade, and he didn’t know how to get out.
WorriedSallyI’m feeling WORRIED, like Sally when Jack has a new plan that is probably going to get everyone in trouble.
WowedPercy JacksonI’m feeling WOWED, just like Percy Jackson when he realizes he’s destined for something amazing!

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