A feelings chart is a widely-used tool for building emotional awareness in children. While many provide images of faces expressing emotion to help children identify and put a name to what they’re feeling, we intentionally created an “I feel” visual with characters that include the whole body.
In this mindful work of teaching children skills for well-being, we recognize that effective emotional regulation includes the skill of paying attention to physiological cues. Because our bodies were designed to communicate, the I Feel poster encourages children to be curious about the important ways our bodies communicate emotions to us every day!
STRESS > REACT
STRESS > MINDFULNESS > RESPOND
Emotions are like messengers, sensations experienced in the body communicating that ‘somethings up’. Emotions are often experienced first in the body before they reach the conscious mind. The hard work is learning to tune in and pay attention before reacting to them, but the payoff is that when we become more familiar with the felt sense of our emotions, we’re more skilled at learning how to manage them.
We use mindfulness to help children develop more awareness of their emotions by teaching them to pay curious attention to sensations in their body, to make friends with those messengers versus reacting to them. This is easier said than done, right? especially when those sensations are unpleasant. But research indicates that the ability to notice and connect these sensations with emotions is an important skill in the development of self-regulation.
“Effective emotion regulation involves the ability to accurately detect and evaluate cues related to physiological reactions to stressful events, accompanied by appropriate regulation strategies that temper and influence the emotional response. There is compelling evidence demonstrating links between poor or disrupted awareness of sensory information, or interoceptive awareness, and difficulties with emotion regulation.” Interoceptive Awareness Skills for Emotional Regulation - Journal Article
Teaching children simple mindfulness meditation practices like the mindful check-in that we use at Well-Bean, helps support the development of this important skill. This consistent practice invites children to check in with their breath, noticing the felt sensation of their breath in their body in a calm state. As children become more familiar with this practice we learn to become more curious about other sensations in the body, eventually linking them to emotions, and providing language around the sensations they might be experiencing.
"For the things we have to learn before we can do them,
we learn by doing them.”
For younger children after a mindful check-in practice you might ask the following questions:
For older children after a mindful check-in practice you might ask the following questions:
Sensations help describe the physical way the body feels. Here are some examples from Dr. Peter Levine and Maggie Kline’s work. One activity that can be particularly helpful for students to describe the felt sense of their emotions is to have them draw/color the sensations:
Naming feelings and labeling sensations help a child integrate what they are experiencing. It’s a simple practice that builds awareness and research shows that using words to describe emotions and sensations jump-starts the executive brain, helping calm down the emotional limbic brain.
Some children will require extra support with learning how to pay attention to their internal cues and for some, it requires extra time to gain a sense of safety and trust in order to do this work. But without this skill, it’s difficult for any child to integrate what they've been taught about coping strategies because they don't have the interoceptive awareness that proceeds this front-brain response. For these children, in particular, it’s important for the adults in their lives to remember the power of co-regulation and relational healing. “An attentive, attuned, and responsive person will help create opportunities for a child who has experienced trauma to control the dose and pattern of rewiring of their trauma-related associations.” - Dr. Bruce Perry
Of course, your personal practice as an adult is key to supporting the children in your lives as they learn to explore their own emotions. Try reflecting back to your child or students what you notice in your own body when you're feeling stressed, excited, happy, or sad. I invite you to take a minute to check-in, now. Then name how you're feeling and notice sensations in your own body.
To purchase a copy of our latest "I Feel" Poster CLICK HERE
Copyright 2021 Well-Bean, LLC. All rights reserved. www.wellbeankidsyoga.com
Jen Rapanos, LMSW, RCYT is a child and adolescent psychotherapist working in private practice and the owner of Well-Bean, LLC.