How to Switch Crying into Communication

Young children are busy learning new words every day, but they don’t always know how to use them. This is especially true when their feelings are strong. Meltdowns can seem to come out of nowhere. Although emotional struggles are inevitable, we can help preschoolers transform crying into communication with a few simple pictures.

Why do Feelings Cards work?
  • In an emotional moment, a child finds relief and comfort in simply knowing that someone understands his feeling.
  • For children, the ability to name a feeling is more difficult than naming tangible objects. By pairing a feeling with a picture, it helps the child connect his abstract feeling to a tangible image.  
How do I use the Feelings Cards?
  1. Print out the free set of feelings cards (see the button below).
  • Laminate them so that children can touch, hold and hand a picture to someone to show how they feel.
  • Store the cards in a decorated can or display them on a portable board with Velcro.
  • Return the cards to the same place each time, so children know where to find the feelings pictures.
  1. Teach the meaning of the various Feeling Cards.
  • Sing “If You’re Happy and You Know it”. Hold up a feeling picture and use a motion that relates to each word’s meaning. For example: Angry/Stomp your feet, Happy/Clap your hands, Sad/Dry your tears, Sleepy/Stretch and yawn, etc.
  • Use a flashlight to find an emotion when looking at the whole set. “Which one is a picture of _____?”
  • Play an instrumental song and encourage a child to choose a card and then dance the emotion. Do a “happy dance” or a “sad dance”.
  1. Use the Feelings cards to prevent crying and encourage communication.
  • At free play time, when you see tensions start to rise say, “I see your eyebrows are wrinkled and your mouth is frowning. Can you find a card to show how you feel?”
  • Be an example and demonstrate how to use words to express your feelings. “I feel very tired. Would someone like to sit and look at a book with me?”
  • During circle time, say, “I see your mouth is smiling and your body is relaxed. Can you find a picture that shows how you feel?”
  1. Use the Picture Cards frequently for both comfortable and uncomfortable feelings.
  • It may take some repetition for the children to seek out the Feelings Cards on their own, but using this “Show and Tell” method will empower children to follow a healthy process of identify a feeling and communicate it with a picture or with words.
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