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4 Games to Help Kids Manage Big Emotions

Photo credit: SPK Studio Images /

4 Games to Help Kids Manage Big Emotions

4 great games to teach children how to manage their feelings

Published on 03 July, 2019

Photo credit: SPK Studio Images /


My eldest son morphed into the Incredible Hulk overnight when he turned 6 years old. Meltdowns took on epic proportions, with cane breaking, furniture throwing, yelling and bashing.

What happened to my sweet, mild-mannered, doe-eyed son? Where did these raging emotions come from?

Teaching our children how to manage their emotions is not just necessary for their survival (and our sanity). Research suggests that emotional intelligence (EQ) is twice as strong a predictor of later success as IQ. Being aware of, understanding, and being able to manage emotions are all part of growing our children’s emotional intelligence.

Research suggests that emotional intelligence is twice as strong a predictor of later success as IQ.

Through a difficult process of trial and error and with the help of books, games, conversations with friends and professionals, my son and I are learning how to deal with his emotional outbursts.

Here are 4 activities that have been helpful to us in this journey – suitable for children aged 2 to 10.

#1: How are you feeling?

Aim: Help your child identify his emotions

This activity involves pasting feeling faces on wooden blocks. It is designed to help your child reflect on their feelings through play.

What You Need:

  1. Plain wooden blocks
  2. Blue tack
  3. Feeling faces print-outs (Google “feeling faces printable”)

How to Play:

  1. Get your child to cut out the feeling faces and stick each face on a wooden block. (Older kids can print out plain emoji outlines and draw their own emojis.)
  2. Ask these questions as they are carrying out their activity: What made the block feel that way? What sorts of things might make you feel that way? Tell me about a time you felt that way.
  3. Continue doing this until you have a few emotions covered. Be sure to include both positive and negative emotions.

Recommended read: My Many Coloured Days by Dr Seuss, and My Mixed Emotions by Elinor Greenwood

#2: Disappearing Bubbles

Aim: Help your child understand that his feelings are temporary

We need to help our children understand that their emotions, like the passing rain, can and will pass.

It’s important that kids learn to understand their feelings, but it’s also true that feelings need to be recognised for what they are: temporary. Research shows that on average, an emotion comes and goes within ninety seconds. A child’s heightened emotions and parental pressure to get rid of the emotion can cause him to feel overwhelmed and stuck. We need to help our children understand that their emotions, like the passing rain, can and will pass. They won’t feel sad, angry, hurt or lonely forever.

What You Need:

  1. A bottle of bubbles

How to Play:

  1. Explain to your child that their feelings and thoughts are a bit like bubbles.
  2. Blow some bubbles – point out how some bubbles are big and some are small – just like how feelings can be big or small, happy or sad. Highlight that just like bubbles, our feelings don’t last forever.
  3. Ask your child to blow some “happy” bubbles. Get your child to talk about what makes him happy. Next, get him to try to stop the “happy” bubbles from popping. Have fun with this: your child can try to catch the bubbles in his hands or try to have a bubble land on his head!
  4. Comment on how some bubbles seem to last longer than others. Share times when you, as a parent, have felt happy either briefly or for a longer time. Reiterate that feelings don’t last forever.
  5. Repeat this process with other feelings, such as anger, sadness or worry. You may find your child wants to pop these bubbles quickly. It is helpful to respond by allowing him to do so. You may also talk about how such feelings often cause discomfort.

This activity can also be used to practise taking deep breaths. Teach them that taking deep breaths help to calm our bodies down when we get angry or anxious.

Recommended read: When Sophie Gets Angry by Molly Bang

#3: Feelings Temperature Check

Aim: Teach your child that there is a range of feelings

Research shows that merely assigning a name or label to what we feel literally calms down the activity of the emotional circuitry in the right hemisphere of our brains.

Children are used to taking temperature checks in schools and at the doctor’s. How about a feelings temperature check? A feelings thermometer is a visual scaling technique used to help children to recognise the different intensities of an emotion. This is useful as both children and parents can begin to notice when they are starting to become upset or angry.

Research shows that merely assigning a name or label to what we feel literally calms down the activity of the emotional circuitry in the right hemisphere of our brains. It further provides us with the opportunity to implement strategies before our feelings escalate and become more difficult to manage.

What You Need:

  1. A printed picture of a thermometer (Google “feelings thermometer template”)
  2. Coloured pencils and markers

How to Play:

  1. Talk with your child about how an actual thermometer works.
  2. Divide the thermometer into 4 sections. Add words to the thermometer. You may wish to use the following scales: calm, annoyed, angry, furious or calm, nervous, anxious, agitated.
  3. Draw faces to depict different levels of feelings and colour different sections in (use appropriate colours, such as blue for calm and red for furious). Talk about recent experiences and which level of the thermometer they would have been at.
  4. Discuss how easy or hard it is for them to calm down at the different levels and where on the thermometer is the best place for them to use strategies to calm down. (Generally this falls within the middle to calm range.)
  5. With older kids, you can discuss how they feel at the highest level on the thermometer – what they have noticed in their body, thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

We can also apply the feelings thermometer to ourselves and share what helped us to stay calm when things don’t go well. You may wish to use the thermometer daily to monitor how your child is coping and to find out what strategies are working.

#4: Memory Matching

Aim: Empower children to make mistakes and learn from them

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the ability to think rightly about their failures. Instead of responding to mistakes with “I feel dumb”, they need to learn to view these as opportunities for growth.

What you need:

  1. A set of memory matching cards

How to Play:

  1. Shuffle and spread all cards out on a flat surface, face down.
  2. Players take turns to choose any two cards. Make a successful match and leave it face up on the table.
  3. When the cards don’t match, turn the cards back and say the words, “Oops, I made a mistake. I can learn from that,” or “Oops, I made a mistake, I can try again.”

By saying the above phrases over and over in the game, our children are learning a new pattern of thinking. This makes it easier for them to use those statements in real life.

Recommended read: The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

This article was written by Sue-Anne Wu. Sue-Anne is a coffee lover and nature seeker. An avid reader, books are her lifeline in the choppy waters of life, marriage and parenting. She lives with 4 rambunctious boys aged 3, 6, 8 and 38.

These games are adapted from Creative Ways to Help Children Manage Big Feelings by Dr Fiona Zandt and Dr Suzanne Barretand, and Motivate Your Child by Dr Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller.

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