A Better Way to Teach Kids About Emotions

How many emotions can you name? According to researcher, Brené Brown, the average adult can only name three emotions: happiness, sadness, and anger. A recent study indicates there are actually only four basic emotions to begin with: happiness, sadness, anger, and fear. From this vantage, we’re getting it 75% right!

However, in our experience of teaching emotional intelligence skills to children, it’s clear that the ability to distinguish nuanced emotions is a powerful tool in boosting resilience. For example, when children are aware they are jealous as opposed to just sad, the ability to process the emotion and make choices about their reaction increases.

In examining resources to help kids identify their emotions, we have come across a variety of “feeling charts.” Pasted below is a typical example of a feelings chart.


As you can see, the chart targets very young children who are visual learners. The chart requires discerning among sometimes subtly different expressions and committing those to memory without an anchor or any other context from which to learn. Furthermore, to be useful, you have to translate the expression to a human equivalent. In short, while these charts can be a good starting point, they also have a lot of room for improvement–especially as kids get older.

We don’t have a complete alternative for these feelings charts as of yet. But as a first step, check out the table below including emotions (with a tween twist) as well as a character pulled from pop (and kid) culture that embodies the emotion. This “feelings table” strives to engage children with characters they are hopefully familiar with and context that will both help in comprehension and retention.

Emotion Character Sentence
Abandoned Loki I’m feeling ABANDONED like Loki, who never could live up to his family’s expectations.
At Fault Clay Jensen I’m feeling AT FAULT, like Clay Jensen, who can’t get over having let someone down.
Blush Neville Longbottom I’m feeling myself BLUSH the way it feels when Neville gets compared to the one and only Harry Potter.
Bummed Spongebob Squarepants I’m feeling BUMMED, like when Spongebob gets in trouble at work.
Can-Do Brian Griffin I’m feeling a CAN-DO attitude, the way Brian Griffin believes in himself even though he’s just a dog.
Cold Elsa I’m feeling COLD, like Elsa when everybody told her to hide who she really is.
Connected Augustus Waters I’m feeling CONNECTED, like Augustus Waters, when he realized he had found someone he could really understand.
Curious Hermione Granger I’m feeling CURIOUS like Hermione Granger who lets her questions guide her to the right answers.
Darkness Batman I’m feeling lost in DARKNESS, like Batman, who misses his family and sometimes feels alone.
Done Frodo I’m feeling DONE, like Frodo when he has to fight his friends just to get the job finished.
Freaked Out Pinocchio I’m feeling FREAKED OUT, like Pinocchio when he gets swallowed by the whale.
Giving Katniss Everdeen I’m feeling GIVING, like Katniss Everdeen, who would do anything for her family and friends.
Gloomy Eeyore I’m feeling GLOOMY, like Eeyore when he’s lost his tail.
Gritty Michael Jordan I’m feeling GRITTY like Michael Jordan when he said with determination, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Grossed Out Stan Marsh I’m feeling GROSSED OUT, like Stan, when he watches Cartman do something disgusting.
Hiding Under a Rock Adele I’m feeling like HIDING UNDER A ROCK, the way Adele felt when she didn’t give her best performance at the Grammy Awards and then said, “I was so embarrassed.”
Internal Bella Swan I’m feeling INTERNAL right now, the way Bella Swan prefers to be quiet and alone rather than the center of attention.
Kind Ron Weasley I’m feeling KIND, like Ron Weasley, who tries to be considerate to all his friends.
Lame Harry Potter I’m feeling LAME, the way Harry Potter felt when he first got to Hogwarts, and Draco made fun of him.
Lost Fry I’m feeling LOST, like when Fry wasn’t sure what he was looking at.
Outsider Frankenstein’s Monster I’m feeling like an OUTSIDER, the way Frankenstein’s Monster felt when he left the laboratory and realized he didn’t fit in at all.
Over U Today Grumpy Cat I’m feeling like Grumpy Cat, who is just OVER U TODAY.
Owning It Rory Gilmore I’m feeling like OWNING IT, like Rory Gilmore does whenever she has to face something difficult and doesn’t let challenges get in her way.
Panicked Finn I’m feeling PANICKED, like Finn when his father was furious at him for messing up an entire Lego set.
Rage Darth Vadar I’m feeling RAGE like Darth Vadar when he found out Luke Skywalker kept his twin sister’s existence a secret.
Real Love Shrek I’m feeling REAL LOVE, the way Shrek feels when he meets Princess Fiona.
Shake It Off Taylor Swift I’m feeling like giving all of my haters a free pass today, the way Taylor Swift decides to SHAKE IT OFF.
Shamefaced Eleanor Douglas I’m feeling SHAMEFACED, like Eleanor Douglas, who had to deal with judgement from everyone in her life because she understands their feelings.
Smash The Hulk I’m feeling like I want to SMASH everything because people are making me angry right now.
Sorry “Sam” Kingston I’m feeling SORRY, like “Sam” Kingston, who keeps going back to the moment things went wrong and trying to make them better.
Successful Success Baby I’m feeling SUCCESSFUL, like Success Baby, who is so glad he got something accomplished that he makes a powerful fist.
Thankful C3PO I’m feeling THANKFUL like C3PO whenever someone is polite to him.
Too perfect Sherlock Holmes I’m feeling TOO PERFECT, like Sherlock Holmes, who always gets it right.
Unsure Thomas I’m feeling UNSURE, like Thomas when he first found himself trapped in the maze of the Glade, and he didn’t know how to get out.
Worried Sally I’m feeling WORRIED, like Sally when Jack has a new plan that is probably going to get everyone in trouble.
Wowed Percy Jackson I’m feeling WOWED, just like Percy Jackson when he realizes he’s destined for something amazing!

If you’re a teacher, parent, or professional, what would you add to this list? What do think would work with a child and what would not? How can we add visual cues to this table to make it valuable for children? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Also, feel free to use this table at home or work, as you feel appropriate. Let us know what the kids think!

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2 thoughts on “A Better Way to Teach Kids About Emotions”

  1. you have the darth vader statement all wrong. First off Luke didn’t keep it a secret, Obi Wan did, and Vader wasn’t angry, he was more intrigued knowing if Luke didn’t turn to the dark side, Leia might.


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