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Inside: What is a Feelings Wheel? How do we use this useful tool? And where to get helpful Wheel of Emotion Posters for your home or classroom.
As parents, we face so many emotions from day to day (even minute to minute)!
A simple event like going to the playground can fill us with joy, pride, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, fear, or anger.
And these feelings can all come flying at us like baseballs, one right after the other.
Well, here’s the thing:
Our kids have all these emotions flying at them as well. And it can be REALLY hard for a young child to process these feelings.
There are a lot of tools at our fingertips to help kids cope with their feelings. And one of these tools is the wheel of emotions (or the wheel of feelings or feelings wheel).
Throughout this post, we will look in detail at the wheel of feelings and how you can use this handy tool to help your child with emotional awareness.
Why Processing Feelings Matters
It’s so important to remember that our kids struggle to understand their emotional states. (Especially when they’re about things like the shape of their chicken nuggets or wanting to bring a specific toy to daycare.)
But, it’s important to have empathy for these feelings our children experience, even if we don’t understand them.
It can be confusing and scary for children to have these different feelings bubbling up inside them without knowing what they are or how to handle them!
As parents, an important part of helping our kids grow is teaching them to identify their emotions and helping them develop the skills they need to process them.
But it can be challenging to know where to start!
Especially if you grew up in a home where managing emotions was not a focus.
Be sure to grab our Feelings Check-in Mini Bundle which includes two versions of the feelings wheel, coping skill cue cards, feelings worksheets, and a giant feelings list.
What Is The Wheel of Emotions?
Today I wanted to introduce a helpful tool that is extremely popular in psychology. It’s called the wheel of emotions, also known as the feelings wheel.
The idea came from American psychologist Dr. Robert Plutchik, created in 1980 to show how all the different emotions are related. He arranged his feelings like a color wheel to display the primary ways human emotions are connected.
It’s a powerful way to dig deeper, explore (and make sense of) our feelings!
The wheel of emotions is commonly used to help people with emotional literacy. (That means understanding your feelings and processing them in appropriate ways.)
It can be used with children of all ages and is a great starting point to help you develop a more profound sense of emotional intelligence.
There are many variations of the emotions wheel, so you can use the one that works best for your family or class.
How To Use The Wheel of Feelings: The Basic Approach
Many people struggle to express the wide range of emotions they feel. The feelings wheel printable helps with that.
I’ll explain how to work from the inner to the outer layers of the wheel to spot your child’s emotions.
It is important to remember that the wheel of emotions isn’t only applicable to difficult emotions! Although it can be used in difficult situations, it can also be used in your daily life.
You can help yourself and your kids develop a thorough emotional vocabulary and express every emotional experience, whether they’re positive or negative emotions.
The First Level of the Feelings Wheel
No matter which model you choose, each feeling wheel will have a circle of core emotions, like joy, sadness, anger, fear, love, and surprise, at the center. This is intended to help you sort out your primary emotions.
If you don’t know which one is at the top, you can start with the process of elimination. Perhaps you’re not sure if you’re sad or angry, but you definitely aren’t joyful, so you can eliminate that option and keep moving to the rest.
The Second Level of The Feelings Wheel
Once you’ve settled on a category, the wheel of emotions breaks down into another rung of more specific emotions.
Let’s say you’ve chosen sadness. The wheel might break it down into options like suffering, disappointment, shame, neglect, and despair.
The Third Level of the Feelings Wheel
The next step takes you to the outer edge of the emotional wheel, with even more specific feelings. For example, “disappointed” might break down into dismayed and displeased.
Do you see how this great tool could help your kids with emotional expression?
Feelings Wheel Poster
We have three Feelings Wheel Poster variations for you to choose from.
You can pick our Preschool or Elementary version of the Feelings Wheel (With a fun Ferris wheel theme) or use the basic feelings wheel appropriate for all ages.
All these posters are in our shop here.
More Tips About How to Use The Wheel of Emotions
It can be tough if you plan to use the wheel with very young children who can’t read. Thankfully, special versions are created for young kids with emojis at each step to represent each feeling.
These wheels can be easier because they don’t require reading skills, and children of all ages might connect with them more because of the fun pictures.
If your young kids aren’t quite sure what their basic emotions are, asking them about their physical sensations can also be helpful.
Are they feeling heavy and weighed down? Do they have big hot feelings in their chest? Is their throat tight? Do they have butterflies in their tummy?
This is a great first step in using the wheel!
Try it Yourself!
If you’re reading this thinking, “Wow, that would help me better understand my feelings too!” I highly recommend trying it out to understand your complex emotions better.
How can we ask our kids and students to understand and communicate their emotional reactions if we aren’t in touch with our own?
Many therapists use variations of Plutchik’s wheel with adults in their sessions. It is one of the most powerful tools available to help people of all ages better understand emotions.
This emotional intelligence is so important for adults to learn and pass down to children!
Tips on Using the Wheel of Emotions
The wheel of emotions can be used in SO many ways. Let’s look at a few options, and you can choose which ones work best for you and your class or family.
Use the wheel of emotions under normal circumstances
If you want to use the wheel of emotions to help your kids with emotional regulation, it’s important to ensure they understand it first.
Make it accessible
- Hang it on the wall
- Buy a throw pillow with it on it
- Download it to your phone and your kid’s devices.
Whether you’re a parent or teacher, having it available to everybody in your home or classroom is the first step.
No matter where you decide to display it, once you have it easily accessible, you can then choose how to integrate it into your daily lives.
For example, the whole family could take turns explaining their feelings at dinner time, or you could have your students chart their feelings every morning. This can also work in conjunction with journal prompts.
The best way to normalize the feelings wheel and make it seem appealing is to let the kids see adults using it.
So, as a parent or teacher, it’s very important to use the wheel of emotions in front of them. More importantly, it can show them that adults have all kinds of feelings too, and that feeling those “negative” emotions is okay.
Talk About it!
You can also talk them through how you might process your emotions when you have negative feelings like anger or sadness. We want to normalize those feelings.
At this point, your kids or students will have gotten more comfortable identifying their feelings. Now, you can move on to more complex uses of the wheel of emotions.
Snag these Wheel of Feelings Posters as part of our Feelings Check-In Mini Bundle.
Use the wheel of emotions to help with behavior.
Most parents and teachers know that behavioral issues stem from children’s big feelings. But, it can be challenging when they don’t know how to express emotions without throwing a tantrum.
Using the wheel won’t eradicate the issues or eliminate your child’s emotions. But, it will help you discern the reasons behind the behavior and help them regulate their feelings more smoothly.
Let’s say you and your kids are getting ready to leave the house. One child might be struggling with every step, and you can sense a meltdown coming.
Lead them to the feelings wheel. Ask questions like, “Are you sad, angry, or afraid?” This can help your child feel more understood.
This is the first step to de-escalating the situation in a healthier way.
Use the wheel of emotions to connect on a deeper level
Every child deserves relationships where they feel genuinely seen, cared for, and understood. The wheel of emotions can be a beneficial tool to start conversations you might not otherwise have. You can schedule regular check-ins, pull them aside, or even take your son or daughter out for one-on-one time.
If you’re a teacher, I highly recommend having check-ins in your calming corner. If you haven’t already, check out my post about creating a calming corner in your classroom or home.
Visual aids are so helpful. And we also love breathing exercises for kids!
It’s very important to remember that children don’t always display their inner emotions on the outside. A child feeling sadness can seem excited, angry, confused, or a litany of other things. Never assume that how they present themselves on the outside is what’s going on for them at their core.
While body language and normal interactions can be helpful, teaching them how to identify their feelings is important. You can discuss their emotions once they find out what they’re feeling deep down.
When you build a relationship with a child that goes below the surface, you can connect the dots on what their life experience truly looks like. This will help you gain insight into how to best care for them. They will feel more connected to you and supported by you.
Encourage older children to use the wheel of feelings on their own
If the kids in your life are older, you can help them discover and track their own emotions. You can teach them how to spot patterns, experience catharsis, and notice how different situations and relationships affect them. Learning to be mindful of and process their emotions is a huge part of tween/teen development.
Ready for More?
Empower your kids with these 12 Mini Mindfulness Exercises for Kids. Get ’em right to your inbox.
Use an App
If your older kids find the wheel of emotions cheesy, I highly recommend the How We Feel app. It’s completely free on the App Store. They’re not a sponsor. I just really appreciate the app.
The app has basic feelings in different colored shapes. When you click one of them, it expands to the next layer of more specific emotions, and so on. It is easy to use, stores your previous entries, and might feel more attractive to older kids or teenagers.
You can even set the app to send push notifications daily to remind you to log your feelings. They can request up to 3 push notifications daily to remind them to check in with their feelings.
What to Do About Their Feelings
If desired, you can connect the app with other users. For example, you could connect your app to your spouse’s or your teen’s to see how they’ve been feeling lately. This can give you an excellent opportunity to check in if they might need support.
While not every kid would welcome that option, it might help some bashful kids communicate their feelings. Some find that texting or logging emotions on an app feels less scary than admitting their feelings out loud.
You can encourage your kids to integrate the wheel of emotions into other coping methods, like journaling, creating art, exercising, or making music. Giving them some privacy and space is important if they’re nervous about you looking at their work. They may need to work through some things independently, especially as they near adulthood.
Final Thoughts on The Wheel of Feelings
Hopefully, this post has helped you understand why the wheel of emotions could be a beneficial tool for your home, classroom, or therapy office.
It helps kids(and adults) easily process all their different experiences!
There are many different ways to learn about and work through feelings. But the wheel of emotions is one tool that truly helps if you don’t know where to begin.
Don’t forget to snag your Feelings Check-In Mini Bundle which includes two feelings wheels and a gigantic feelings list!