Are you looking for ways for teaching emotions to your clients? Check out my Emotional Awareness worksheets with structured high-quality activity sheets targeting 20 different emotions, what they look like, and how they make us feel in our bodies.
What is emotional awareness? Basically, it is the need to understand your own emotions and feelings. Additionally, it is about understanding others emotions and responses.
Now, more than ever, our children need to have the means to talk about their emotions. Call it emotional competence, emotional intelligence, or emotional awareness, either way students need to be able to recognize and understand their emotions. As SLPs, we can increase awareness of the sensations in their body. Above all, we can help children put words to their thoughts and emotions. Teaching emotions gives children power!
Do We Need to Teach Emotional Awareness?
Children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) are behind their typical peers in terms of developing knowledge of emotions. Brinton et al. (2007) described children with SLI as having:
- More struggles more with peer relationships
- Lower levels of acceptance
- Higher rates of bullying
- Difficulty expressing encouragement or comfort to their peers
- Identification of simple emotions such as happy and sad, but not more nuanced emotions such as disgust and surprised
- Challenges inferring emotional reactions of story characters
Emotional awareness and communication are tightly linked. Consequently, children who struggle with language are going to have a hard time expressing themselves emotionally.
Additionally, they will struggle to understand others’ emotions. Naturally, this affects peer relationships. But, it also affects their ability to talk about these problems and get help from adults.
AAC Users Need Us to Teach Emotional Language Too
What about our students with complex communication needs? How can we support AAC users with their emotional intelligence?
Truly, we can’t forget about our children with complex communication needs. They are statistically at a higher risk of experiencing abuse and neglect which can lead to emotional disorders (Rangel-Rodriguez et al., 2021). Further, self-advocacy is related to the expression of feelings as well. Thus, teaching emotions should be a big priority for the population of children we serve.
Additionally, consider the typical AAC system. Voice output has come a long way, but typically the voices themselves carry little emotion. For example, they lack prosodic characteristics like intonation and volume. Consequently, emotionally vocabulary must make up for that lack.
So, when working with students who use AAC, make sure they have access to emotional vocabulary. So many systems will provide a simple “happy” or “sad,” but our emotions are much more complicated (Rangel-Rodriguez et al., 2021). We need to discuss types of emotions and the reasons behind our feelings when working with individuals who use AAC.
How to Teach Emotional Awareness to Children
Giddan et al. (1995) found that children progress through the following stages of emotional language use:
- Identify and label feelings
- Describe and interpret feelings in self and others
- Gain control over emotions and incorporate socially
How can we improve emotional awareness? My Emotional Awareness Activities worksheets can give SLPs an easy, low-prep way to target each of these stages!
In the beginning of the resource are a few teaching pages so you can teach the difference between thoughts, body sensations, and feelings. Then, I’ve provided a ton of different worksheets, visuals, and graphic organizers to help your students identify body sensations and feelings in their own body!
Self awareness improves emotional intelligence. Last, there are two sections of feelings worksheets that allow you to discuss a variety of specific feelings (e.g., brave, calm, confused) more in depth. In these ways, emotional awareness can be learned and practiced.
After targeting these foundational skills with my students, they began the process of connecting the dots to understanding their own sensations and feelings. From there, we were better able to target other skills that rely on emotional awareness including self-advocacy, self-regulation, and coping skills.
Speech Therapy Goals for Targeting Emotions
To get started with goal writing for emotional awareness, you might want to check out my goal bank! Emotions play into a number of skills that we address with our kids, so we can target emotions in a lot of ways!
You can definitely target emotional identification directly, with a goal such as these, which target personal feelings and feelings of others:
- Given a familiar visual and verbal cues, NAME will indicate how he is feeling and why in 60% of observed opportunities.
- NAME will correctly identify how others are feeling and identify at least one specific visual cue in 80% of opportunities given a familiar visual and gestural cues.
Combining Emotional Awareness with Conversation Goals
Alternatively, you can target emotions while working on conversation skills. After all, conversation is about finding topics of mutual interest. If the other person seems bored or confused, it might be time to change the subject!
- Given a conversation with one other peer or adult, NAME will maintain a topic of conversation of the other person’s choosing by asking partner-focused questions and making comments for at least 3 conversational turns in 70% of opportunities.
Teaching Emotions and Problem Identification Goals
Finally, size of the problem type goals are perfect for emotional awareness. Little problems warrant smaller emotions, like annoyance. Big problems result in big emotions, like fury.
- NAME will identify how to be flexible in response to a little problem in 4/5 opportunities given 1 verbal cue.
My Emotional Awareness packet is a great place to start when teaching emotions. The visuals and graphic organizers help kids understand and apply what they learn!
Generalizing Emotional Awareness to Other Acivities
Of course, any good speech therapist will find ways to generalize after teaching emotions. One way to do that is to read story books with good emotional language (Alvarenga et al., 2020). Stories can be a great place to start talking about emotions felt by characters. Naturally, the best books will talk about the links between emotions and actions.
Don’t forget, speech therapists can label their own feelings as a therapeutic tool! If it is a strong feeling, we can can model how to handle that feeling without losing control. Also, try exaggerating your expression, voice, and body language. Ham it up! Really emphasize that emotional language!
Finally, for a great list of books with emotional characters, see this article!
Alvarenga, P., Zucker, T.A., Tambyraja, S., & Justice, L. (2020). Contingency in teacher-child emotional state talk during shared book reading in early childhood classrooms. Early Education and Development. https://doi.org/10.1080/10409289.2020.1722786
Giddan, J., Bade, K., Rickenberg, D., & Ryler, A. (1995) Teaching the language of feelings to students with severe emotional and behavioral handicaps. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools. https://doi.org/10.1044/0161-1461.2601.03
Rangel-Rodriguez, G., Martin, M., Blanch, S., & Wilkinson, K. (2021). The early development of emotional competence profile: A means to share information about emotional status and expression by children with complex communication needs. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. https://doi.org/10.1044/2020_AJSLP-20-00209
Brinton, B., Spackman, M., Fujiki, M., & Ricks, J. (2007). What should Chris say? The ability of children with specific language impairment to recognize the need to dissemble emotions in social situations. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. https://doi.org/10.1044/1092-4388(2007/055)
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