Focus on Feelings

Emotions Color Wheel

Make a point to stop and ask children and youth "How are you feeling?" ... and take time to listen to what they have to say. After all, feelings and emotions play an important role in shaping a person's behavior, interactions with others and concentration. In addition, when we take the time to ask about feelings, we are communicating that we care. Finally, children report that they enjoy talking about their feelings.1

Emotional literacy is the ability to identify, understand and respond to emotions in oneself and others in a healthy way.2 Children who have a strong foundation in emotional literacy are mentally healthier, enjoy positive relationships and do better academically.

Teaching children to recognize, label and talk about their feelings is one of the core competencies of social and emotional learning (SEL) (see Currently, all 50 states have preschool SEL standards and many states have SEL integrated in their academic standards.3 Embedding strategies that foster SEL help children recognize feelings, control impulses and develop important skills for developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASAL, and the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL, provide a wealth of user-friendly materials for school personnel and families on how to promote social and emotional learning – including how to help children talk about their feelings.4

Simple suggestions:

  • Teach a feeling vocabulary using a variety of embedded strategies throughout the day using games, craft activities, songs and storybooks that focus on feelings. Check out Pinterest 'Let's Talk About Feelings' for ideas
  • Embed feeling activities into language arts, art and handwriting instruction. Use coloring and handwriting sheets developed for Every Moment Counts – see Tier 1 Strategies.
  • Use color to help students learn about emotions. Teach feeling words and a range of intensity using a color wheel. See do2learn's website and resources at
  • Observe children's facial expression, body language, and tone of voice in order to help label their feelings based on your observations (e.g. "You seem a bit discouraged", "You look excited about going to recess").
  • Read books that focus on characters who experience different feelings and talk about it afterwards. Pose questions to foster reflection on how to verbalize and manage emotions such as, "What do you think he was feelings?"; "What do you think she should do?". Suggested reading lists: Younger children; for middle school students, see Teachers College Reading and Writing Project for a list of books at and Carnegie Library's bibliotherapy list at
  • Encourage students to tune-into other's feelings and respond with empathy.
  • Express your own feelings out loud (e.g. 'that was frustrating for me') and demonstrate positive ways for dealing with feelings (e.g. 'I better take a deep breath').
  • Teach students about their feelings and how to regulate their emotional state using The Zones of Regulation (Kuypers, 2011). Lessons and learning activities are designed to help students recognize their Zone (moods/alertness) and use strategies (sensory supports, calming techniques) to regulate their Zone in order to help them learn and interact effectively with others. This curriculum can be used by an interdisciplinary team. See

1 Bazyk, S., & Bazyk, J. (2009). The meaning of occupational therapy groups for low-income youth: A phenomenological study. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 6, 69-80.
2 Joseph, G., Strain, P., & Ostrosky, M. M. (2005). Fostering emotional literacy in youth children: Labeling emotions – What Works Briefs #21. Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) (2009). Retrieved from Also, see the Training Kit #21. Retrieved from
3 Durlak, J. A., Domitrovich, C. E., Weissberg, R. P., & Gullotta, T. P. (Eds.) (2015). Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning: Research and Practice. Guilford Press. See
4 CSEFEL. Teaching your child to: Identify and express emotions. Retrieved from