Playing with Emotions

Emotions can be hard to get a handle on. On the ride of life they can hijack the steering wheel, and drive you on a non-paved road of complete discomfort. However, we can learn to identify them, lean into them, and flow through them! The expression of feeling “stuck” evolved for a reason. When we deny our emotions OR become hyper-focused on not experiencing certain emotions we give them the perfect opportunity to camp out in our brains, and effect our overall thought patterns.

In working with children, and Social Thinking®, I started to notice that many of my clients or students felt they needed to be constantly calm or happy. “I am always ready!” While it is incredibly important for children to actively listen and regulate in school, it is also extremely important for them to be able to acknowledge and accept when they have ALL different feelings. It is OK TO FEEL tired, sad, mad, excited, distracted, happy, etc. Emotions should not carry stigmas. If a person cannot identify and accept how they feel how will they ever be able to figure out ways to move or FLOW past that feeling? We use strategies to solve academic struggles…what about emotions that prevent us from focusing, participating, or learning? Happiness or stress free cannot be mandatory. We need problems in our lives to teach us what we don’t want to focus on! Identifying feelings or thoughts we want to move past in order to problem solve!

Playing with feelings

The Zones of Regulation® are an amazing tool for parents and educators alike to help children identify and relate their emotions (and frankly learning to emotionally “check in” with my own Zones as an adult has been a lesson in my own self-awareness and Emotional Intelligence).

One day we were doing a lesson regarding emotions at the table and it clicked for me. Emotions are HARD to understand sitting at a table. They also effect MUCH more than our facial expressions!


They are a physical experience.

You feel an emotion throughout your entire body.

What better way to teach them then through movement and role-play?

We took our younger students into the gym with large shapes of the colors corresponding to the Zones of Regulation®. We focused just on one emotion in each zone (For example: Green = Calm, Yellow = Excited, Blue = Tired, Red = Angry). We then created a game based loosely on “Red Light Green Light”. The children had to move from one set of cones to another set of cones across the gym by acting out the emotions or Zone colors the clinician held up. For example, when we held up yellow they jumped up and down, ran, yelled, and pumped their arms in the air to show excitement. When we held up blue they slouched their shoulder, put their heads down, and moved very slowly. All of the common physical emotional responses were modeled and discussed prior to our activity. However, during the activity the students started to independently add their own characteristics or verbally identify what they were feeling!

Finally, we began to discuss our “emotional tool belts”, or strategies we can use to move through emotions (ex: What can we do to move from feeling angry to feeling calm? What helps us? What doesn’t help us?). As adults we use our own tools (and sometimes we forget to). For example, feeling stressed and going to the gym to feel better is a TOOL you have learned. Listening to music is a TOOL you have learned.

Reflect on your tools. What makes them effective for you? Do you need new tools?

We need to experience anger, frustration, and sadness to help us best determine what we want to focus on, and what we don’t want to focus on. These emotions help us to realize new goals, tap into complex problem solving, and learn to navigate new situations so that we can GROW.

Take some time for yourself today, and do something that brings you joy! It’s a tool in your belt you will always benefit from!


One thought on “Playing with Emotions

  1. Pingback: Playing with Emotions | Collaborative Minds Social Learning & Leadership

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