Teaching Children to Recognize Emotions With Art

parentingages and stages

The key to teaching children to recognize emotions is by getting hands on and involving them in the teaching and learning process (like in this post on learning to identify emotions with cupcakes). Using art is another great way to do just that!

Teaching Children to Recognize Emotions

Why Is Teaching Children to Recognize Emotions So Important?

You may be asking why teaching children to recognize emotions is so important? Raising children high in emotional awareness is equally as important as helping them in their educational development. Or, as some business books say, leadership requires both EQ (emotional quotient) and IQ (intelligence quotient). In the book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman shares five essential traits leaders have:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Social skill
  4. Empathy
  5. Motivation

Why am I mentioning a business book and leadership in a post about parenting? Because as parents, we are concerned about raising the next generation of leaders—or at a minimum, socially responsible children who contribute, not take away from, to society, right? Regardless of the path your children choose to go down (working, raising children, volunteering, etc.), having a high emotional intelligence will help them be more successful with their interpersonal relationships, in their leadership positions, and give them a greater ability to make a difference in the world around them.

Using Art for Teaching Children to Recognize Emotions

Teaching your children to recognize emotions starts with simply pointing them out when they occur. Start discussions early in your children's lives by asking questions like, "How do you think that person is feeling?" and "Will you show me your happy face?" As they get a little older, engage them in hands-on, fun activities where they can get creative to discover, recognize, and express a variety of emotions.

This simple 6-step drawing activity is fun for kids of all ages and even works for teens. Follow these steps to begin:

  1. Gather some blank paper and coloring pencils.
  2. Give your children a page with blank circles on it, as many as you'd like (less for younger ages and more for older children).
  3. Underneath all but a few of the circles, write an "emotion" word (simple for younger ages and more complex for older children). Words you could use include "happy," "sad," "excited," "scared," "mad," "silly," "disgusted," "guilty," "ashamed," "frustrated," "lonely," "curious," "confident," and more.
  4. Define the word "emotions," pointing to the words beneath the blank circles as examples.
  5. Ask your children to complete the circles that are labeled by drawing a face with a different emotion for each circle.
  6. Encourage them to come up with additional emotions, label the blank circles with no emotion labels, and draw face to coordinate with their labels to complete the exercise.

After the drawing activity and when your children have a tough time expressing their emotions, pull out the chart they created and ask them to point to the face that best describes the way they are feeling. If they run into a situation with a family member or friend, do the same thing, referring to the chart and having them identify the emotion the other person may be feeling.

Here's one example of faces with no labels.

kid expressions

Tip! The key for teaching children to recognize emotions is to let them be creative, have their own "voice," encourage them to draw emotions as they see and understand them, and listen to them as they discuss and share their perspectives, validating their thoughts and feelings. Make sure not to get defensive, correct them in any way but via constructive feedback, or "perfect" their drawings. Make learning emotional awareness safe. Reward positive identification with treats or affirming comments. The more you can get your children to express and move through their emotions, the more they will be able to self-regulate and empathize with others.

Want other tips for teaching your children to recognize emotions? Check out this post that helps kids identify emotions through baking cupcakes.

What tips do you have for teaching children to recognize emotions?

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An active part of the Mom It Forward team, Jyl primarily writes about parenting, social good, and all things travel related. In a past life, Jyl was an award-winning copywriter and designer of corporate training programs for Fortune 100 companies. Offline, Jyl is married to @TroyPattee; a mom to two teen boys and a beagle named #Hashtag; loves large amounts of cheese, dancing, and traveling; and lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Topping her bucket list is the goal to visit 50 countries by the time she's 50.


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