Emotions Activities for Kids

Note that emotions on our chart get more intense the further to the right they are. Also note that each emotion is diagonal from its opposite (sad/happy, grateful/jealous, etc.)

“Feelings come and go,” says the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, “like clouds in a windy sky.” At some level we all know this. But in the moment, it can be tricky to remember. We might feel overwhelmed with anger, worry, or sadness and react in unhealthy ways.

It’s especially difficult for kids. To help with this, we’ve created an emotions chart (above) and accompanying cards that can help kids name and navigate their feelings.

Emotion Card Games

Emotion Charades

Play a game of emotion charades. Put the emotion cards in a pile face down. One person picks a card without revealing what’s on the card and then acts out the emotion while everyone else guesses the emotion.

To play a more difficult and humorous version of the game, require the actor to keep their face expressionless and only use their body (arms, legs, posture).

Headbands

Each person picks a card and attaches it to their head via a headband, a piece of scotch tape, or just doing a little lick and stick. Go around the table and ask questions to get clues about what your emotion is.

Questions have to be answered with “yes” or “no.”

For example:

  • “Would I feel this if I were going to my favorite restaurant?”
  • “Would I feel this if i just found out my best friend was moving out of the country?”
  • “Would I feel this if I forgot my homework?”

Pretend

Play a game of pretend where each person chooses a toy or stuffed animal and a scenario. Then have each person draw an emotion card, which will define their character during the game or chapter in the unfolding story.

Example scenarios:

  • “You’re lost in a forest together and have to find your way out”
  • “You’re about to go on a trip to outer space together and have to pack”
  • “You’re searching for buried treasure in a dense jungle forest.”

A spin on this for older kids could be playing an improv theater game.

After playing, reflect:

  • Which emotions were most helpful for accomplishing your goal?
  • Which emotions were least helpful?

Activities

Emotions Check-in

Go through the deck with one person, sorting the cards into two piles: “Yes, I feel that right now” or “No, I don’t feel that right now.”

(If you want, you can add a third pile: “I’m not sure.”)

After you go through it, talk about what that person feels.

Alternatively: Each person picks a card that describes how they are feeling in the moment.

Spark a conversation with these questions:

  • “Where do you feel it in your body?”
  • “What kinds of things spark this emotion in you?”
  • “Imagine that the space around the emotion is expanding, bigger and bigger. How does it feel now?”

Order the Emotions

Order the emotions by which ones they dislike feeling most. Set out all the cards from one of the “negative” emotion colors (red or blue). Order the cards of that color from the most negative for them to the least negative for them.

Discuss:

  • What is it about these emotions that you dislike the most?

Do the same thing with the “positive” emotions (yellow or green). Order them by the most positive emotions for them.

What Do You Want More or Less Of?

Pick a card for an emotion you want to feel more of. Ask each person to think of three things they can do to invite more of that feeling into their life.

Pick a card for an emotion you want to feel less of. Ask open-ended questions to learn more:

  • “When do you notice feeling this emotion most often?”
  • “What time of day?”
  • “Where are you?”
  • “What are you doing?”

Encourage each person to be a “feelings detective” and notice the things that lead to that particular feeling.

Make the Shape

Pick a card and make the shape of that emotion with your body. Invite each person to exaggerate the shape. Ask:

  • What does your face look like when you feel ______?
  • What about your head, shoulders, hands, and the rest of your body?
  • What are the thoughts and beliefs your body is communicating when you experience sadness?
  • Slowly change the shape of your body from sad to calm.
  • What looks different?
  • What feels different?

FEEL

Use what we call FEEL to work through emotions.

Find the emotion.
Engage with the emotion.
Express the emotion in a healthy way.
Love the emotion.

Example:

  • Find: “I have anger in my body. I should take a breath…”
  • Engage: “What is anger telling me? … It’s telling me that I don’t deserve to be bullied.”
  • Express: “Feeling anger in my body motivates me to talk to a grownup and fix the problem.”
  • Love: “Thank you, anger, for helping me be clear that I’ve had enough. There is space for you.”

Traditional Card Games

War

Play a traditional game of war by assigning a value to card colors, such as yellow > green > blue > red.

Split the deck evenly so each player has an equal number of cards. Each player plays the top card in their hand each turn. The player who plays the card with the highest value (yellow, in the case above) wins all the cards.

If there are two or more cards with equally high values, the players who played those cards put down an additional card to see who wins the full pile.

Since this game can go on for a long time, consider saying that once a play is down to three cards, they are out.

If there are two or more cards with equally high values, the players who played those cards put down an additional card to see who wins the full pile.

Since this game can go on for a long time, consider saying that once a play is down to three cards, they are out.

Go Fish

Give each player four cards*, which they can look at. Put a draw pile (face down) and a discard pile (face up) in the middle of all players.

The objective is to get a set of four different colors.

On your turn choose a player and ask them if they have a card of the color you want to help you get a set. If they do, they give you the card. If they don’t, they say, “Go fish,” which means you have to pull from the draw pile or discard pile and discard one of your cards so each player always has four cards.

The player who gets the most sets wins.

*If you’re playing with more than three players, adjust to giving three cards and aiming for sets of three.

Have Additional Emotions Activities for Kids?

Have an emotions activity that works for kids? Let us know at info@UpliftKids.org, and we’ll add it here. 

For research on this approach to emotions, see the work of Marc Brackett, PhD.