I put a “feelings check in board” in my therapy office when I first started my position as an early childhood mental health therapist. I never realized just how much that thing would get used though. I quickly noticed that kids loved using it and were able to check in with one feeling and then use the board without prompting to show me how their feeling was changing throughout session. I started having kids ask to take it home so I made this printable feelings wheel that incorporates the same concept.
CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE PDF
How to make:
-have child color the feeling faces on the wheel. It can be helpful to ask questions like, “What color do think angry should be?” Or “What color do you think of when you think of being sad?” There are no right or wrong answers but it can be helpful to note which color the child chooses for “safe.”
-have child cut out the arrow and then help the child connect the arrow to the middle of the wheel using a fastener (usually they are a gold color and can be found at any office supply store).
-have the child move the arrow to how they are feeling! Have it available somewhere at home or school so the child can recognize her emotions (which is the first step in helping a child calm down and express feelings safely). It could be in the child’s bedroom, in the safe calm down spot, in the school desk, or wherever the child most needs some feeling validation.
I have even had children have this in their calm down spot and begin to self regulate their own time outs/ calm down times! For example, the child is upset and walks to calm down spot then moves the arrow to angry on the feelings wheel. Child then takes some deep breaths or just sits in the calm down area. Child moves arrow to frustrated to signify they are “less mad” and then eventually move the arrow to the happy or safe feeling face and then leave calm down area. Sound too good to be true? Children just need LOTS of practice, encouragement, and praise to get to this point (WHEN THEY ARE NOT UPSET introduce and practice the concept first). For example, pretend to be angry with your child, act out a typical situation that is upsetting to your child and stomp your feet and make angry faces with your child. Then show your child what to do next by walking to the calm down area and checking in with the wheel. Then have the child practice what you want her to do to calm down (take deep breaths, rip up some scrap paper, etc). Next check in with the wheel again to see if the feeling has changed and if you are ready to leave the calm down area. If your child doesn’t like acting this out, try to use a stuffed animal or puppet and have your child help “teach” the stuffed animal how to use the calm down area and feelings wheel.
Why differentiate “safe” from “happy” in the feelings wheel? In my experience working with children who have experienced trauma (although all children benefit from recognizing what makes them feel safe) things that make a child feel happy (ice cream, recess) are sometimes significantly different than what makes a child feel safe (“baby bottles”- said a child who experienced neglect in infancy, “When my foster mom reads me the same book every night,” “When my brother walks into the basement with me to get my toys,” “When someone asks me first before giving me a hug,” “When mom says she loves me,” etc.). The more we can help children feel safe, the less aggression and anxiety driven behaviors we will see, because these are almost always rooted in feeling unsafe or threatened. Identifying what makes a child feel safe is the first step in establishing safety!
Oh! And this can be a used as a game too. Take turns asking questions and spinning the wheel for answers. “I’ll close my eyes and then move the arrow to how you feel when it storms outside.”