How Strong are My Feelings?

When we work with children, it is vital that we remember that their brains are different than our adult brains. The frontal lobe, or the part of the brain in charge of talking, logic, and impulse control, continues developing well into our 20s and possibly our 30s, depending on which study you read. Have you ever wondered why college students Act Like That? It’s because the part of their brain in charge of making good choices isn’t fully online yet.

Children have not learned the skill of communicating their feelings with words, both because they haven’t been alive long enough to practice, and because that part of their brain isn’t there yet. It’s up to us to give them the tools to tell us what they need.

Since it can be hard even for adults to find words for our feelings, I’ve found it helpful to give kids visual aids. One of the first things I give a lot of the families at my clinical practice is a feelings thermometer that teaches kids how to notice how strong their feelings are on a scale from 1-10. A lot of templates for this activity exist online, but here is one that I put together:

This worksheet helps kids with two skills: noticing feelings inside their bodies and sharing that information in a way that the adults taking care of them can understand. Often, a child will not identify that they feel angry until they are FURIOUS, and it’s hard to come down without an outburst. The feelings thermometer helps them start to notice when their anger is at a 3 instead of an 8.

They also practice communicating and asking for help from adults so the adults can understand and then provide that help. When the parent hears, “I’m feeling scared at a 5/10,” they can use that information when deciding the best way to help the child cope.

If you’re not sure where to start in giving kids the tools to express their feelings appropriately, the feelings thermometer is a good first step.

Published by Amy Marschall, Psy.D.

Dr. Amy Marschall received her Psy.D. from the University of Hartford in September 2015. Her clinical interests are varied and include child and adolescent therapy, TF-CBT, rural psychology, telemental health, sexual and domestic violence, psychological assessment, and mental illness prevention. Dr. Marschall presently works in the Child and Adolescent Therapy Clinic at Sioux Falls Psychological Services in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she provides individual and family therapy and psychological assessment to children, adolescents, and college students. She also facilitates an art therapy group for adolescents and college students with anxiety and depression. Dr. Amy Marschall is certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Telemental Health.

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