Your Guide to Teaching Emotions to Toddlers

For young kids, every day can feel like an emotional rollercoaster. One second they’re crying over spilled milk, the next they’re laughing about a cartoon. But how do they understand normal and healthy emotional expression – and what can they do to regulate their intense feelings?

As an early childhood educator, you play an important role in helping children learn and explore everything from happiness to frustration to sadness. What kids discover about emotions during their toddler years can ultimately help shape how they view, express and control them as adults.

At LifeCubby, the team behind our easy-to-use childcare management software is full of former early childhood pros who know firsthand how important (and at times difficult) teaching emotions to toddlers can be.

They took that experience and put together this go-to guide with their top emotions activities for preschoolers:

Get emotional at storytime.

One of the easiest methods of teaching emotions to toddlers is through stories. Commit to selecting one week each month (or one day each week) to read stories that focus on social emotional skills. As you read through each of the tales, talk with your students and have them discuss with each other about what they learned in the book and how the main character demonstrated various feelings. For an added bonus, have students act out what the prominent emotions were in the book. Not sure which books to start with? Here’s one of our favorite round-ups from We Are Teachers.

Break out in song.

Studies have shown that students remember concepts better when they’re accompanied by music. So, try teaching music in your classroom as a way of teaching emotions to toddlers? Start with a list of songs (like this one from Preschool Express) and work with your students to memorize the lyrics. Once you’ve finished a song, have students share how the song makes them feel — or what they think they should take away from it. Find easy-to-learn instruments for your students to play with the music and put on a concert for parents where they can show off their new skills!

Move, match and memorize.

Help your toddlers learn what emotions can look like with this fun Monster Feeling game from Pocket of Preschool. Before the game begins, show your students each monster, read through the emotion and have them practice showing the emotion themselves. Then, pass out the cards and tell each student to keep their card a secret, while also walking around making the face shown on it. Once they find someone making a similar face, ask them to show their cards to see if they’ve got a perfect match. Once the activity is over, have the students reflect on a time when they felt their card’s emotion — and how they could show that in the future.

Bring on the puppets.

Puppets are among the most tried and true props for emotions activities for preschoolers, and we especially love this activity from Scholastic as it involves your kiddos in making each one. Start your class with a lesson on the different emotions people experience and have your students reflect on each. Also, introduce your students to the concept that people can feel more than one at a time and, while that’s completely normal, it’s important to ensure you’re in control of them. Then, have your students use various craft materials to create a puppet that showcases an emotion of their choice. Once they’ve designed them, invite the kids to share their puppet with the group before storing them in a large, easy-to-access box. As the days go on, let students know they can come back to the box and use the appropriate puppets anytime they feel they need to work on sorting out a feeling.

Create calm-down kits.

Emotional regulation can be a difficult topic to introduce to preschoolers, but these calm down kits from Autism Adventures are a great resource to start with. Calm-down kits are great because they can be completely customizable based on your supplies/students and can be managed at a student level or on a classroom level. We recommend including toys that can help your student recenter and focus (like bubbles or another sensory activity), along with place cards and notebooks to help them recognize and speak about their emotions.

Inspired to get to work on teaching emotions to toddlers? Our award-winning childcare management software can help! With just a few clicks, you can easily schedule out your favorite emotions activities for preschoolers and share the corresponding lesson plans with parents. Plus, families will love getting to see their students learning in action via our in-app camera roll.

Click here to schedule a free demo today!