Practical Tips to Build Your Child’s Emotional Vocabulary (Part 2): Games!

There are many interactive games you can play with your child to encourage a strong emotional vocabulary…and a strong relationship too!

Last week, we discussed how to begin helping your child identify his emotions. I even included one of my favorite games to play with kids of all ages…The Mad, Sad, Glad Game!

Today, in part 2, we discuss a few more games you can play in order to increase your child’s emotional vocabulary.

Feelings Matching Game
This requires some simple prep. First, gather pictures of faces displaying various feelings. These can be found on the internet (ex. google images), in magazines, or hand drawn. You can even take pictures of your children making various feelings faces and use those. Then, make “cards” with the names of each of the feelings faces you have gathered. Finally, gather your children and have them match the feelings pictures to the feelings names.

With your child, take turns role-playing various situations in which emotions arise. Try to include a wide variety of emotions in your scenarios. Here’s a few examples to get you started:

*Asking for a cookie and being told “no.”
*You come home from school on your birthday and…”surprise!”…all of your friends and family are there…it’s your surprise birthday party!
*Your dog ran away last night.

Photo from

Name a feeling and have your children…
*…Act it out
Everyone loves to make faces, right?

*…Draw it out
All you need are crayons, colored pencils, or markers and paper. Change it up a bit…would be even more fun on a chalkboard or dry erase board!

*…Make that face in the mirror
Little kids especially LOVE this one!

Feelings Hunt:
Browse through your old magazines and cut-out pictures of faces with different emotions. Have your child choose a picture, and tell a story about a time they felt the same way.

While the games presented today and the methods presented last week are simple, they are not easy for all of us. Many of us do not have extensive emotional vocabularies ourselves. If this is hard for you at first, keep practicing. It will become second nature soon. In the meantime, practice sharing your own feelings aloud around your child, as well as reflecting (out loud) the emotions your child experiences throughout the day…and throw in a game or two to keep it fun and interesting. :)


What games have you played to encourage your child’s emotional vocabulary?

Practical Tips to Build Your Child’s Emotional Vocabulary (Part 1): Help Your Child Identify Emotions

Share Your Emotions

One great way to build your child’s emotional vocabulary is to talk aloud about your own feelings and reactions to situations and events throughout the day.

Ex. “I’m frustrated because this keeps happening.”

“I feel angry because the dog has dug up my flowers…again.”

“I’m glad the weather is nice to day.” 


Reflect Your Child’s Emotions

In addition, while observing and talking with your children, reflect their emotions verbally.  Naming the emotions they experience allows them to recognize their own feelings, validate those feelings, and learn coping skills to handle big feelings.

Ex ‘Looks like you’re sad because your friend had to go home.” 

“You look pretty proud of yourself for scoring the winning goal.” 

“I can see that you’re mad at Mommy because I said ‘no’.”  


Play a Game

A fun way to help children identify emotions is through play!  Today, I’m sharing my “go-to” emotions game for all ages.  It’s easy, takes very little time, and (according to many of my client families) helps take conversations…and parent-child connections…to a deeper level.

Mad, Sad, Glad Game

Have each person in the family (adults included) share one thing that made them feel Mad today.  Once everyone has shared, have each person share one thing that made them feel sad.  Finally, have each family member share one situation, event, conversation, or accomplishment that made them feel glad today. 

A few helpful tips for this simple, yet powerful game: 

*This activity takes just a few minutes and can be played during mealtime, at bedtime, or even in the car.  

*Avoid belittling or denying a child’s feelings. (Ex. “You shouldn’t be mad about that…”)  Simply allow the child to share his experience without criticism or ridicule. 

*Ensure that siblings are not allowed to laugh at or ridicule each other’s feelings.

*Always end with the positive…”glad.”


A bonus:  This simple game allows you to see life through your children’s eyes…to determine how they perceive the events and situations they experience.  It also allows your children to see that you too experience the same emotions.  Plus, when children hear or witness how you cope with mad and sad feelings, you model coping skills for your kids! 

There are many more interactive games you can play with your child to encourage a stronger emotional vocabulary…and a stronger relationship too!  Check out my next post (Part 2) for More Playful Ways to Encourage a Strong Emotional Vocabulary.


I’d love to hear from you:  Which comes easier for you…sharing your own emotions out loud in the presence of your children?…or verbally reflecting the emotions you see in them?

Set Your Child Up for Success: Build Your Child’s Emotional Vocabulary

ImageA child (or adult) with a healthy Emotional Vocabulary is able to identify, process, and express a wide range of emotions appropriately, and has the capacity to cope with strong emotions and to express them without harming self, others, or property.

As parents, one of the most important tasks we have is building our child’s emotional vocabulary.  In fact, one of my first assessments in working with children in my counseling practice involves determining how well they identify emotions, express them, and cope with strong emotions.  

Building your child’s emotional vocabulary will make your life much easier in the long run.  When children are overwhelmed by a particular feeling and don’t know what to do, they act out.  An emotional vocabulary helps them identify the feeling and cope with it more effectively, therefore, reducing tantrums and angry outbursts in kids of all ages.  

An emotional vocabulary also helps your child tune in to how others may be feeling.  When a child is able to recognize facial and posture cues for various feelings in himself, he can then use those cues to determine perceived feelings in others.  This is the basis for empathy…being able to see behind another person’s eyes…or walk in their shoes.

As you can imagine, building your child’s emotional vocabulary sets your child up for success in numerous facets of life, especially in social skills and peer interactions.

Are you starting to see why it’s a win-win…for parents and children…to work on identifying those emotions?  If you have young children, start now!  If you have school age children, start now!  If you have older children, it’s not too late…start now!

 Are you looking for simple practical tools you can use to begin to build your child’s emotional vocabulary today? Check out these posts here and here.


What is Play Therapy?

Play is a child’s natural way of communicating what is happening in his world.  Play therapy provides children an opportunity to say with toys what they may have difficulty expressing with words.

Play therapy is different from regular play in that the play therapist helps children to address and resolve their own problems. The use of play allows children a safe psychological distance from their problems.  Play also allows them to express their true thoughts and feelings in a developmentally appropriate manner.  Through the use of play, the therapist is able to help children find solutions to their problems in life.  The play therapist utilizes many different materials, which may include:  carefully selected toys, various forms of art, sand, music, and games.

Adapted from “Why Play Therapy?” from the Association for Play Therapy.  For more information on Play Therapy, visit the Association for Play Therapy website at

Welcome! So glad you’re here…

Welcome to my little neck of the blogging woods…

We’ll be discussing life from a Counselor-Intern’s perspective, from my journey to licensure in the state of Tennessee, to hot topics and recent research in counseling children, teens, and women, as well as fun play therapy resources and techniques you can try at home!