small whiteboard that says "let's make a feelings chart together" with happy face

Connection during COVID-19: Let’s Make a Feelings Chart!

Welcome to part 2 of “Connection During COVID-19.” Each week while the art room is closed, I am sharing a simple art activity for you to try at home. These activities are some of my favourites to share with clients in the art room. While the activities are not art therapy per se, they ARE invitations to connect with your child, to spend a few minutes creating together, and to talk about your current experience. After explaining the activity, I’ll share why I chose it for you, and how you might use the activity as a starting point for discussion if you want to go a little deeper. 


Last week we explored a scribble drawing game


This week, we are making a feelings chart together! 

yellow and pink balloons with feelings faces drawn on
Photo by “Hybrid” on Unsplash

If your child has come to art therapy, they will tell you that we begin and end EVERY art therapy session with some version of a feelings chart. Why? Because it is so helpful and important to take a minute to check in with our emotions. If we know how we are feeling, we can identify what we need in that moment. 


As an art therapist, it is crucial for me to know if my client is “coming in hot” with anger about a disagreement with their sibling in the car, or if they are feeling sad after a disappointing experience at school. This will make a huge difference in how they respond to what I have prepared for the session, and will greatly impact our interaction. If I know that they are feeling angry or sad, we can take a moment together to explore and tend to those feelings. Then, we can either proceed with the plan for the session, or we can change directions and focus on something more helpful to my client at that moment. 

child crying wearing shirt that says "happy"
Photo by Arwan Sutanto

An emotional check-in is also very important as the session comes to an end. Are they feeling worried about something we talked about? Are they excited to show their artwork to their caregiver? Do they have a question or a fear about something we didn’t get to? This helps me to figure out whether my client needs a little bit of extra support to help with the transition back to life outside of the session. 


I think this might be really helpful information at home right now too! If you are about to start an online homeschooling lesson, or work on a chore around the house, it would be helpful to know if your kiddo is feeling anxious, or mad, or sad. A child who is feeling mad is more likely to refuse your instructions. A child who is feeling anxious might not be able to complete a task independently. If you know how your child is feeling, you can adjust your approach. Identifying your feelings will help you both to figure out what you need to work together successfully. 


So, let’s make a Feelings Chart! 

Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. A small white board or chalkboard (if you don’t have one, paper works fine too!)
  2. Drawing materials (dry erase markers, chalk, or regular markers) 
small whiteboard on table with dry erase markers

Here’s what you do:

Begin by dividing your drawing surface into six sections. Draw a vertical line down the middle, and then add two horizontal lines to divide the “page” into thirds. 

small whiteboard divided into six square sections

In each of the six sections, draw a circle. 

Small whiteboard divided into 6 sections with a circle in each section

Starting with the top left circle, add eyes, a mouth, and any other important expressive features to make a “happy” face. Then add features to the other circles to make “sad, mad, scared, and surprised” faces.

Small whiteboard with happy, sad, mad, worried, and surprised faces drawn on it

Leave the last circle blank. This circle is space for you or your child to draw your very own feeling. Sometimes we feel something that doesn’t fit neatly into the categories of happy, sad, mad, or scared.  In my example, I drew a face to show “happy and sad at the same time.” That’s a feeling I have been experiencing a lot lately.  I felt like it needed its own face, because it feels different from the neat and separate faces of happy and sad. 

 


If it’s developmentally appropriate for your child, add some labels or names to the faces. There are many nuanced feelings that might fit under each general category. I always draw these basic faces, but let each child label them as they see fit. Some kids name the top left face “happy”, while others label it as “calm” or “excited” or “joyful.” The same goes for each of the other faces. I write down each child’s unique interpretation of the expression. In my example, I included some of the labels I hear most often for each emotional expression. 


Finally, use the feelings chart to share with each other how you are feeling right now. Select as many feelings as you like. You might be feeling just one of these emotions, or you might notice that you feel a whole bunch at once. You can just use your finger to point, or you can use a different colour to circle the faces, or maybe add check marks beside the ones that apply. Each of my clients has their own way of showing how they feel using the chart. Perhaps invite your child to share with you what THEY do in the art room. 


Here’s a video recap of how to make the feelings chart (Press play in the middle to watch!):

 

Variations:

  1. If you don’t have a whiteboard or chalkboard, use paper instead.  
  2. Happy, sad, mad, and scared are the four most basic human emotions. But the variations on these four feeling states are endless! Think of as many feelings as you can. Which of the four main categories would each word fit under? Continue to add to your list over time. 
  3. Build a feelings chart check in into your current routine. Check in after getting dressed in the morning, before lunch, or at bedtime. 
  4. Use the feelings chart during play. Ask your child how their favourite toy or stuffed animal is feeling. Often children will project their own feelings onto their toys. This can give you a clue into how your child might be feeling, even if they are hesitant to share their own emotions. 
  5. Read a story together, and use the feelings chart to identify how the characters in the book are feeling.  
Girl looking at book
Photo by Jerry Wang

Rationale (here’s why I love this activity):

Knowing how we feel is the first step in regulating (which means coming back to a calm state mentally, physically and emotionally). When we know what the feeling is, we can start to figure out what we need. We can take action or ask for help. We can give ourselves what we need to move through the feeling safely. 

I like to use a whiteboard for the feelings chart, because it reflects how quickly our feelings change. Feelings come and go. In fact, brain scientist Jill Bolte-Taylor says that physiologically, our emotional experiences only last for 90 seconds. 

Our feelings are not our identity. They don’t make us a good or a bad person. They don’t have to control our behaviour, determine the course of our day, or rule our relationships. 

Once we understand feelings for what they are, and know what we can do to express, tend to, and move through our emotions, we can feel much more competent that we have what it takes to deal with any emotion. 

Identifying our feelings is the first step in this process. That’s why I love feelings charts so much!

 

woman holding crying child
Photo by Jordan Whitt

Some things you might talk about:

  • What does each feeling need in order to feel cared for? Here are some ideas. Add your own! 
    • Happy – a hug, smiles, fun games, play time, talking together
    • Sad – a hug, alone time, a soft blanket, time to cry, an apology
    • Mad – time to cool off, help with letting out frustration, safe options for releasing energy, someone to listen, an apology, validation, deep breaths 
    • Scared / anxious – deep breaths, reassurance, more information, a night light, a hug, someone to talk to, calming strategies, distraction, a pillow fort 
    • Surprised – a safe space to let out energy, a dance party, deep breaths, calming strategies, someone to listen, validation 
  • Have you noticed that you are experiencing more of certain emotions since we began social distancing? It’s very normal to be experiencing increased sadness, anxiety, or frustration. 
  • What emotions seem to be coming up a lot for other family members? 
  • How does it feel to share our feelings with each other? 

If you or your child could use some support in managing feelings during these uncertain times, I am available via virtual (online) art therapy. It would be my honour to join you as we navigate the intense emotions of this season together. Just send me an email to get started. 

See you next week!

Written by Rubi Garyfalakis, DTATI, RP, RCAT

Pinterest Graphic with title of blog post and photo of feelings chart

2 Comments

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[…] a super easy beach activity and a great way to build emotional literacy. (⁣It’s similar to the feelings chart activity I shared back in March). ⁣ First, enjoy the sensory experience of sand between your toes and wind […]

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[…] what happened with a curious, non-judgemental approach. What else was going on below the surface? A feelings chart can be really helpful for this. As the caring adult you can say “I noticed that some angry […]