Teaching Toddlers to Identifying Emotions

So how do we practice identifying emotions and help our children develop impulse control?

Teaching toddler about emotions/feels

  • Play and share with all children
  • Imaginative play – caring for a doll, animal, customers, etc. 
  • Messy play or sensorial play – can help sooth some children who are stressed, anxious, over stimulated, under-stimulated. (refer to >>>> for some ideas of sensorial play)
  • Reading stories – characters go through many emotions and feelings themselves it is a good way to see how those feelings can be managed 
  • Outdoor play – sharing the playground, waiting for your turn, dealing with the feelings of wanting something that isn’t yours, how to engage with others, stand up for themselves, 

I am not a fan of labeling a feeling for my child. I think emotions and feelings are too complex to be labeled by me even if I am the parent. Instead I go for “ It looks like you are feeling …..” (angry, frustrated, sad) It is OK for your child to feel any emotions, it’s about helping them manage those emotions, express them appropriately and get through those feelings. 

It takes a lot of practice and also a lot of modeling from the adults around to help children learn to deal with their own feelings. As adults we must acknowledge their feelings and make sure they understand that it’s OK to feel any set emotion. 

Act out the Feeling Game

Age Group:
2 and up

How to:

Say a feeling and act it out or make that expression with our face. Of course I modeled what each emotion might look like. We would talk about what could make us feel happy, sad, angry, etc. You can also play this game in front of a mirror so your child can see their faces while they make the face for each feeling. This can get silly and fun but also can help them learn a lot about feeling their own feelings as well as the feelings of the people around them. 

Make sure to start with basic feelings. Having your child practice identifying these emotions is a great building ground. If you can help them identify these feelings in others as well as themselves you can help them build awareness and empathy.






I also believe that using real faces rather than drawings is important when learning what emotions might look like on someone’s face. Babies as young as 6 months start to mimic faces. (example: sticking out your tongue or smile) It is important that children see emotions on real faces.

FREE PRINTABLE (you can use this as a prompt for the drama game, use them as conversation starters, print two sets and play a matching game or play memory)

Choose one face at a time. What do you think they are feeling? Why might they be feeling this way?

When your child can identify each feeling you can then start to use drawings depicting these emotions. I suggested not doing so until they are able to identify it with a picture rather than an illustration. 

Published by Christelle

Former Montessori School Teacher and Child Life Specialist. Specialize in early childhood education.

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