Helping Kids Handle Big Emotions: Feelings Wheel & Calm Down Cards

Feelings Wheel for Kids and Calm Down Cards

Picture this. I am standing over the stove stirring dinner while holding the fussy infant, and my toddler sneaks in behind me, bringing a scoop of dirt in the house and pours it on the rug. Simultaneously, my five-year-old is wailing because her big brother allegedly took the toy she was playing with from her hand and scratched her in the meantime. The big brother is stomping up the stairs shouting angrily that she is lying and he didn’t do anything. I can feel my face getting hot as the chaos and emotions are swirling around the room–and most of them, inside of myself. 

As an adult I have learned to identify what I am feeling in that moment and usually how to control my impulses, but even as a 35-year old woman with years and years of practice, I still have moments where the big feelings get the best of me and I react poorly. If that is true for us as adults, how much harder is it for children who haven’t had nearly as much education or practice?

This is just a quick snapshot of how quickly things can turn from peace to disorder in so many of my days and probably yours too. I wish I could just snap my fingers and all the big emotions in all of us could just settle down in moments like that. Since that isn’t possible, it is important for me to model to my children what healthy emotion regulation looks like. For me, in that moment, I may take a deep breath and ask my older children to go outside for a minute so I can handle one issue at a time and calm down before addressing their spat. I have learned what triggers me and certain strategies to use in those situations to help myself practice self-control.

This is not a skill we are born with, but rather it has to be taught, modeled, and practiced. As their parents, it is one of the most important things we can teach our children. A child’s capacity to identify and regulate their emotions affects their family and peer relationships, attention skills, and long-term mental health. A child who cannot self-regulate and throws tantrums constantly puts a strain on all the relationships in the household. Kids who don’t have the ability to control their feelings or behavior can have a harder time making or keeping friends. The inability to self-regulate emotions can lead to traits like anger, aggression, withdrawal, or anxiety. I have already seen glimpses of this in one of my young children, so I am on a journey to be more intentional in this area.

After multiple messy situations that arose where I found myself trying to sort out emotions with my children and talk through how they could manage those emotions differently, I decided I needed to be more intentional in teaching them and having a plan before the situation arose. I knew I needed something fun and visual. I decided it was time to have a go-to tool, so I created The Feelings Wheel For Kids and Calm Down Cards. 

Feelings Wheel

The Feelings Wheel

As you can see on the wheel, the emotions I used are separated into 4 colors. This is known as the Four Zones of Regulation and is often used in classrooms and in occupational therapy. I simplified the feelings and created simple visuals for each one. Here is a quick summary about the four zones. 

The Green Zone

The green zone is used to describe when your child is in a calm state and ready to talk, listen, and learn. The emotions in this zone are calm, happy, and focused. This is the “goal zone”. If you are trying to read or do schoolwork and your child seems distracted, you could talk with your child about their feelings and how to get back to this zone before continuing lessons.

The Yellow Zone

The yellow zone is a place where the child typically still has some control, but they aren’t in the ideal zone for learning and relating. In this zone I have put anxious, silly, and confused.

The Red Zone

The red zone describes a heightened state of intense emotions. When a child is in the red zone, they usually really struggle to control their reactions. This is the zone kids are in during meltdowns. Here I have put angry, frustrated, and scared.

The Blue Zone

When a child is in the blue zone they are usually still in control, as you are in the yellow zone, but with low energy emotions. Here I have put tired, sad, and bored.

I share below some different ways you can use the wheel to teach about feelings and help your child through big emotions.

Calm Down Cards

The Calm Down cards are simply that–strategies put on cards, so that in the heat of a moment, your child can choose a card to help them calm down and “get back to the green zone”. My thought is that, by having the cards as options for the child, they will feel in control and empowered while making a decision on how to regulate their emotions. Ultimately, the goal is for them to do this without prompts or visual support, but the cards are a great tool for the “in-between”. I recommend looking through the cards and choosing a few to offer your child as appropriate options, rather than all of them at once.

How to Help Kids Handle Big Emotions

Identify

It’s common for kids to struggle with identifying their feelings. Recently we went to my sister’s house for a playdate and my son helped me pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch beforehand. The kids swam and played and when lunchtime came, my sister offered to cook for everyone, so I left the sandwiches in my lunch box and we served the kids spaghetti instead. My son started to cry and wanted to be alone. He kept saying he was too embarrassed to go sit and eat with his cousins. I was wondering why he was embarrassed so I could help him through it. I asked the cousins and his siblings if something happened before I came out to serve lunch. When I finally got him to talk about his feelings he said, “Mom, I just feel so embarrassed about having spaghetti for lunch. We always have that for dinner, not lunch! We packed sandwiches, remember? I really wanted to have the sandwich I made.” What he was really feeling was disappointed, not embarrassed. 

Helping our child understand what they are feeling is really important. If they don’t know, then often we can’t help them through it. One way we can teach them is by taking time to teach the words for different emotions while they are not in the middle of the emotion. This is especially effective while reading stories to them. It can be any story because every story has situations where emotions are felt and expressed! You can pause reading and chat about what the characters may be feeling. I have been keeping our Feelings Wheel nearby during read-alouds so the kids can use it to visually identify and label emotions.

Another way is to model it! You can use the Feelings Wheel to talk about things that made you angry or excited and spin the arrow to those emotions. Then, encourage them to talk to you about their day and come alongside them in identifying their own feelings. 

You can also play a charades-type game, pretending to feel a certain emotion and have your child spin the arrow to their guess. Talk about how your body looks and physically feels when you pretend to be each emotion on the wheel. For example, “I was pretending to be frustrated. Did you see that my mouth turned down, my forehead crinkled, and my teeth and fists clenched? If I was actually frustrated, my face might feel hot too.”

Express and Regulate

The next step to helping children handle their big emotions is to teach them how to appropriately express them. The first step to expressing their emotions is communicating them. The Feelings Wheel is so helpful for this because children are so visual and they can point or turn the spinner to the appropriate emotion that they are experiencing. 

Take some time to help your child come up with appropriate ways of expressing their emotions, before the big emotion hits! You can do this by looking over the calm down cards and talking about which ones would help them in certain situations. You can also brainstorm new strategies your child can use the next time they feel a certain way and write them on the blank cards provided. 

For example, you may say, “Remember when you got so frustrated when you couldn’t put on your helmet and so you threw it across the yard and stomped? What could you have done instead that would have calmed you down and helped the situation?” It might be one of the options on the cards or a combination of them. 

In daily life, encourage your child to express their emotion and praise them when they do it in appropriate ways. Make sure to point out the specifics. For example, you might say, “I know you were anxious when you were playing that game but I love how you took big, deep breaths instead of quitting when your sister was winning.”

Use Scripture

One thing I like to include in training my children in this area is what God says about our emotions. For starters, I remind my children that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit and that without God’s help, we will fail. We need his heart-changing love to help us choose kindness and gentleness in hard situations. They have seen me sing or pray the name of Jesus in a moment when I am tempted to scream. They may giggle or roll their eyes when I belt that out, but deep down I hope they remember who I turn to. We have also memorized scripture that has directly targeted some of those negative reactions, and I remind them of those passages as we talk through this. I pray with them in those big-feelings moments and ask God to help them identify what they feel and give us ideas to work out those feelings.

Here are a few of our go to passages. 

“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” Proverbs 16:32

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” Titus 2:11-12

“A [shortsighted] fool always loses his temper and displays his anger, But a wise man [uses self-control and] holds it back.” Proverbs 29:11 AMP

So far, I have been using the Feelings Wheel and Calm Down Cards with my children and they have proved to be helpful in so many situations! I hope it is a helpful tool for your family as well. I would love to see photos of your family using it. If you share them, tag me @treehouse_schoolhouse.

Our Homeschool Daily Rhythm with a Toddler and a Baby in the Mix

If I have learned anything since beginning home education, it is that having a daily rhythm is crucial to my sanity, my children’s peace, and our consistency in lessons. A daily rhythm is a less constricting word for a schedule or a routine. With so many responsibilities and roles that come with being a mom of four and home educator,  creating and sticking to a daily rhythm is the only way I feel I can be intentional with our time. While I do set actual times for the events in the day to help me stay on track, it is more about the order of events than times, and the times vary depending on the day.

My children are highly visual and my oldest son particularly feels out-of-control when he doesn’t know what to expect of our day. It brings so much peace to him to have a visual schedule with boxes he can check off as we go throughout the day. I made and use these watercolor rhythm cards, but in the past (before the kids could read), we have used these chore cards from The Peaceful Press and these daily rhythm cards from StephanieHathaway Designs.

I have also learned that our rhythm is an ever-changing element, always needing to be adapted to the changes in our home life. I have blogged multiple times about our daily rhythm because it has changed so many times. I do love sharing it, though, because I know it really helps me to peek into other people’s days to get a grid for how I can potentially set up my own. You can read about our homeschool preschool rhythm and this post where I talk about how to homeschool with a baby in tow (my third was 9months at the time). 

Our most recent changes are that we have another new baby in the house and that the two oldest are more “seriously” homeschooling now than they were in the previous rhythm posts. My children are currently 7.5 years, almost 6 years, almost 2 years, and 2 months old. My infant isn’t on a schedule in the least bit yet, so a part of the rhythm that isn’t written below includes nursing her about every 2 hours, changing her, and helping her fall asleep throughout the day. 

Our Daily Rhythm

Mama Morning Time

5:30 – 7am Mama Morning Time

I wake up and make myself a french press or latte, light my bedside candle, grab my books and journal, and spend some time reading, praying, and preparing my heart for the day. The baby usually wakes up sometime during this period and I nurse her in the bed and lay her next to me while I finish my time. The other kids start waking up between 6:30-7. When they wake up, they are allowed to come into the bed with me and read quietly or go play until breakfast. 

7 – 7:30am Make Breakfast

I head to the kitchen and make breakfast while the kids are playing and my husband is getting ready for work. During this time I also pack my husband’s lunch so he can leave right after Bible Time.

7:30 – 8am Breakfast & Bible Time

My husband leads this time using a family devotional. We recently finished Our 24 Family Ways and absolutely loved it. I will share a review of it in detail soon, but in the meantime you can watch this highlight on my Instagram. Each morning includes Bible reading, discussion, scripture memory, and a time of praying together. 

Morning Time Read-Aloud

8 – 8:45am Morning Time

We say goodbye to my husband, clear the breakfast table and begin Morning Time. During this time we do our Traceable Calendars and Weather Charts, read and recite poetry, do picture study, and I read a picture book. My toddler plays nearby or sits on my lap. We often add things in to involve him like fingerplays, puppets, or read some board books. Read more about our Morning Time here. To read about how I find quality picture books, click here. When Morning Time is finished we get ready for our Nature Walk.

9 – 10am Morning Nature Walk and Ride

This is something new we have added to our rhythm to help schedule in some exercise for this postpartum mama and to start our day out with fresh air. I pop the baby and toddler in the double stroller and the big kids grab their bikes or scooters. We are fortunate to live right by a greenway, so we walk to the entrance and hop on. There are a few different routes we can choose to give us some variety. On our walks we like to listen to music, tell stories, and look for interesting bugs or animal tracks. 

Morning Chores

10am – 12:30pm  Snack, Stories, Morning Chores, and Free Play // Daily Cleaning Tasks and Cleaning Loop

As soon as we get home from our walk, the big kids prepare a quick snack for themselves and the toddler. They grab some books to read while they eat. Sometimes I will pull up an audiobook for them to listen to, and other times they just read independently while they munch and I nurse. When they’re done snacking they grab their chore charts and get to work. Morning chores usually take them about a half hour and when they are finished they are free to play until I call them for lunch. Usually they head outside to play in the backyard or downstairs to the craft table to work on projects. During this time, I tackle my Daily Chores which are clearing the sink of dishes, one load of laundry, cleaning countertops, and sweeping. If I have time, I take care of the next task on my Cleaning Loop List. 

What is a Loop List?

A Loop List is a list of tasks or subjects that you go through in order, one per day in the timeslot of your rhythm that allows for it. You aren’t scheduling a task/ subject to a particular day, but rather you just work down the list on each day that you have the chance. This works well for me in this season of littles because some days we skip the Loop Cleaning Task or School Subject altogether if it’s a crazy day and just resume down the list on the following day.

My Cleaning Loop List:

  • Clean bathrooms
  • Tidy our bedroom
  • Tidy babies’ rooms
  • Upstairs floors
  • Downstairs floors
  • Wash everyone’s bedding 

12:30pm Lunch and School Prep

I eat, feed the kids lunch, and get the materials ready for school. If I need to sharpen pencils, set up supplies, or grab any additional materials from our craft storage area I do that here.

Our homeschool space

12:30 – 3:30pm Nap and School

Around noon I prepare a quick lunch for everyone. We eat and I put my toddler down for his nap. Thankfully he is a good napper and goes right down. After I put him down, I quickly clear and wipe the table and we jump into lessons. Both of my older children participate in school lessons now, and I am using the same curriculums for both children with adaptations for their skill levels.

Our daily school time currently includes:

  • Morning Time overflow – any part of Morning Time that we didn’t get to in the morning or the whole thing if we had an outing and skipped it
  • Chapter book read-aloud
  • Language Arts – reading, narrating, phonics, copywork/ handwriting, grammar, poetry
  • Math
  • One of the subjects on our Subject Loop List – Art, Music, Nature Study/ Science, History, Geography, Handicraft

If my toddler wakes up before we are finished, he will draw or play with something nearby while we finish up. 

3:30 – 5:30pm Outside Play/ Tidy and Dinner Prep

The kids help clean up from school lessons and head outside to ride bikes, play in the backyard, or play with neighborhood friends. I am usually beat by this time, so I take a few minutes to decompress with the littles before prepping dinner. Sometimes I have to use this time to finish the task from the cleaning loop if I couldn’t tackle it in the morning. I prepare dinner and tidy the house before my husband gets home around 5:30.

5:30 – 7pm Dinner and After-Dinner Chores

We eat together and then the kids refer to their chore charts again for their after-dinner chores. These chores usually target areas of the home that get messy throughout the day and also include the things they need to do to get ready for bed. After dinner I start working on the dishes and getting the toddler and baby ready for bed.

7 – 8:30pm Play and Read with Dad

Once the kids have finished their chores they are free to play or read with my husband until they go in their shared room at 8. My toddler goes to bed around 7:30. During this time I am usually still working on dishes or with the baby. The big kids play in their room until 8:30 when we let them know it is “lights out.”

8:30 – 10pm Decompress

All of the children are asleep so this is the time when I spend catching up with my husband, showering, reading, or blogging. I try to be in bed no later than 10!

My hope is that reading this was helpful and that you can glean from this to create the rhythm that suits your family’s unique needs and desires! If you make a watercolor daily rhythm on Instagram, make sure to use the hashtag #watercolordailyrhythm and tag @treehouse_schoolhouse

Curriculum Review: First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind Level 1

First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level One

I want to share with you a book we are enjoying as an addition to our first-grade curriculum. First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level One is geared toward first-grade students. Although our current curriculum is very well-rounded and covers a good bit of language arts, I wanted to add in something gentle to touch on grammar skills and give my children more opportunities to develop language skills from a classical approach. Each lesson is short and concise and takes about 10-15 minutes, and I only add them in 2-3 times a week. Copywork, narration, picture study, and other classical techniques are used in this curriculum to develop language abilities.

The lessons are super easy for a parent to open and teach, as they lead the instructor step-by-step through the simple oral and written assignments that build reading, writing, spelling, storytelling, and comprehension skills. The guide includes 100 lessons to teach basic grammar skills such as nouns, verbs, punctuation, and capitalization. They will also memorize 12 poems and study many great pieces of art. They will be given the opportunity to practice oral narration and the beginning stages of written narration. 

This book has been a great fit for our home education and we will likely move to Level Two when we finish. I will say that some of the lessons are repetitive, so I meshed a few together here and there. The lesson presentation is incredibly detailed and is written in script form that tells the teacher exactly what to say and when to have children repeat things. At certain points, I found this too structured and controlled, so I just adapted it when needed. If you are looking for something light to gently introduce language skills from a classical approach, I recommend taking a look at this book. 

If you want to take a peek inside the curriculum check out this IGTV video where I go more in-depth.