As a kid I was never taught necessary Emotional Intelligence skills. As a teacher I developed an Emotional Intelligence curriculum to help children gain the skills necessary to be successful adults.

Part of this curriculum involves helping kids recognize different emotions within themselves and in others. In preschools during morning circle time I showed children pictures (like the ones above) of a child expressing one of the nine basic emotions: happy, sad, scared, disgusted, surprised, angry, curious, mean, and embarrassed (I found that younger children don’t yet understand the last three emotions).

As I showed the children the pictures I would act out the emotions and have them do the same. Then I would go around the circle and ask each child what he or she was feeling. It’s important to be patient and give the children ample time to think things through.

If the child needed help I would point to the pictures and rename the emotions. Once the child responded, I would sometimes ask the child what made him or her feel that way (it’s important to ask “what” and not “why” since “what” indicates that you are looking for the external cause and “why” indicates that you are looking for internal justification). “What makes you feel happy?” I remember some children responding that they were happy because they were loved by their parents.

Once I asked a boy about 10 years old how he was feeling. He responded that he was feeling sad. When I asked him what was making him feel sad, he unloaded his experience of be part of shared custody between his divorced parents and the stress of his dad having a new girlfriend. I was taken aback at the heart-wrenching story and my mind raced for answers. But the simple act of just listening to the boy immediately brightened his mood.

The results of this simple exercise were amazing. It became easier and easier for children to name the emotions that they were feeling. The children also showed increase empathy by asking other children how they felt and by naming the emotions for the other children.

This simple lesson taught the children three important Emotional Intelligence skills: Emotional Self-Awareness, Empathy, and Interpersonal Relationships—skills necessary to lead successful lives as adults.

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