Using your resources to teach feelings: When less is often best

September 16, 2019
By admin

I, like many other passionate educators have spent years trying to really reach kids with additional needs. In order to help a child take turns during play, request more of a toy or tell me how they were feeling, I needed to meet them at where they were at. And when I say reach, I mean, hours have been spent creating resources and adapting games to suit the interests, goals and developmental abilities of the kids I worked with.  I think I can confidently say that I have spent a bulk of my working day and after hours, googling and downloading images from Thomas the Tank Engine to the hemidactylus frenatus, (or the common house gecko just in case you didn’t know). Sound familiar?

Sometimes we risk bombarding kids rather than helping them.

When it comes to targeting emotional goals, as educators and carers, we want to reach young people and give them a voice but we also run the risk of actually overwhelming them at the same time. We want to help kids identify how they are feeling in their body so they can let us know they are hungry or that they need a break. But in an effort make use of every precious moment of intervention, we can bombard them with too many choices and cause confusion.

How confident are you teaching emotions?

You may have established an effective routine at home or in the classroom with visual schedules and have the right resources to enable kids to transition pretty smoothly across the day. But what about when it comes to teaching emotions?  How confident are you at utilising resources to support your kids to identify and manage their feelings? If you have a therapist come in and work on emotions with your young person, I hope you have picked up some practical tips you can use at home and out and about.


Too many choices!

There are many resources in the market that support emotional growth.  I’ve seen laminated posters displaying up to 50 expressions. Wow, that’s so visually busy! Don’t get me wrong, these resources certainly have their place in certain contexts. I get it, we want to ensure that all feeling states are captured. We don’t want to ask a child to indicate how they feel and their feeling isn’t represented in front of them. But imagine feeling crappy and you are asked to sift through 25 faces. You are in my OT social skills group. The kid next to you is clicking his tongue, you are hungry and OT, Ellena thinks she is helping but she’s just placed another demand on you.

Feeling Boards can sometimes be overwhelming if there are too many choices.

Let me share.

My purpose here is not to give specific advice on how you should be using resources to build your child or student’s social emotional skills.  You know your child or student’s abilities and learning needs. Through my experience, supporting emotional awareness and equipping kids with the tools to better manage their emotions, I can say:

  1. Less is often best. What I mean by this is that it’s a good idea to start with basic emotions so we cater for kids who can only cope with a few choices. Basic emotions can still be used as a springboard for high functioning kids to extend their emotional vocabulary. So how can you modify existing feeling boards? Cover up some of the complex feeling words with a bit of paper and gradually build up emotional vocabulary. Also, having two different feeling boards on hand caters for different kids. It also helps kids who although may normally articulate themselves well, are feeling overwhelmed and are struggling to express themselves.
  2. Pairing emoticons or line drawings with photos or real life examples is great for kids of all abilities.  Even if a child has ‘mastered’ recognising line drawings of faces and can link these to events (e.g. He’s sad because he misses his Mum), draw their attention to pictures in magazines, people on T.V, their peers and events happening around them throughout their usual routine. Consider reviewing video footage or your image gallery together on the iPad.  Discuss what was happening and how they were feeling.  “Look, this is you at Jack’s party. You’re laughing here. How did you feel?”

You can find more resources and tips to support social emotional skills here.

Thanks for stopping by! Ellena, OT and owner, Kids Develop Store.

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