A Guide to Emotions Check-In for Kids

Having an emotions check in for kids is a critical piece of the social emotional skills puzzle. We know the value of addressing emotions and self regulation in mental health. The simple act of checking in with our kids’ feelings and emotions is pivotal in benefiting overall mindset, emotional intelligence, and much more. Here, we’ll cover how and why an emotions check-in supports child development.

We’ve previously created a resource on using a feelings check in. Having these tools in your toolbox to support students is beneficial in meeting needs with affect modulation, mental health, and emotional well-being.

In this article, we’ll unpack what an emotions check-in is, why it matters, and how it can become a valuable tool in supporting our kids’ emotional regulation.

emotions check in

What Does An Emotions Check-In Mean?

An emotions check-in is a simple practice that involves where kids pause and take a moment to identify and express how they feel at a given moment. This can look like describing your emotions or selecting a current emotion from an emotions list. This can be different, yet similar, to a feelings check in.

Helping kids to understand the difference between feelings and emotions (and the similarities) is helpful in supporting social and emotional development. It’s key to helping kids to build self awareness.

This can be practiced through tools or self regulation strategies like a feelings chart or a mood meter that gives kids a visual aid to pinpoint where they are on the emotional spectrum. Understanding mood and affect and how this relates to behavioral responses so these types of emotions tasks are great for development.

Imagine a tool that acts as a compass for a child’s emotional journey, aiding in everything from daily tasks to self-care and mindfulness. That’s where a simple emotions check-in comes in handy!

How Does Emotions Check-In Help Kids?

Now how does this simple practice help kids navigate the rollercoaster of emotions? Social skills development doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s so important to recognize the role that one’s own emotions play in empathy, co-regulation, and interacting with others.

There are many ways an emotions check list can help kids with social emotional skill development.

Some of those aspects include:

Let’s break down each of these benefits of checking in on emotions:

Emotional Labeling

Ever had that feeling of being in a fog of emotions and not quite sure what’s going on? An emotions check-in is like turning on the headlights in that fog. 

It gives the kids the vocabulary to put names to their feelings. Instead of just feeling a jumble, they can say, “Oh, that’s frustration,” or “Hey, look, I’m feeling excited!”

Recognizing Emotions

By recognizing their emotions, kids will be better equipped to regulate them. So, when the wave of frustration hits, they can ride it out instead of being swept away.

It’s not about suppressing feelings but understanding and managing them effectively like mastering the controls of an emotional rollercoaster.

Naming Emotions

In the long run, an emotions check-in can foster a culture of open communication about feelings.

So, instead of a kid saying, “I don’t know,” when asked how their day was, they can confidently say, “I felt a bit anxious during the math test, but I’m okay now.”

It’s also a way for them to communicate not just with themselves but also with others. As kids become familiar with their own emotions, they will develop empathy for the feelings of their peers, creating a supportive and understanding community.

Emotion Coping Tools

Through emotions check-ins, kids work with teachers or therapists to develop personalized emotion coping tools

Feeling stressed? Let’s try deep breathing. Overwhelmed? How about a quick mindfulness exercise?

Whether it’s taking a deep breath, going for a walk, or talking to someone, these tools empower children to handle challenges constructively.

Emotional Self-Awareness

Emotions check-ins contribute to the development of self-awareness and emotional intelligence

They will be able to understand their triggers, their joys, and their challenges. They also learn to be present in the moment and, if needed, engage in self-care strategies.

This foundation prepares kids to navigate relationships, understand themselves, and face life’s ups and downs with resilience.

Healthy Emotional Mindset

Imagine if kids grew up with a healthy mindset of thinking that all emotions are valid and part of being human.

It’s not about labeling emotions as good or bad; it’s about accepting them all and learning to navigate them. This sets the stage for a positive relationship with their own emotions.

One final area is executive functioning. It’s worth mentioning the role that emotions and cognitive skills have on one another. Read about the connection between emotions and executive functioning.

Emotions Check in strategies

So now that you know the specifics behind using an emotions check as a development tool, let’s look at some emotions check in strategies.

Emotions List: An emotions list serves as a valuable tool for children to identify and articulate their feelings effectively. By providing a comprehensive range of emotions, such as happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and more nuanced emotions like excitement or disappointment, children can better understand and express their emotional experiences (Plutchik, 2001). Encouraging children to use an emotions list during check-ins helps them develop emotional literacy and communication skills, fostering healthy emotional expression and regulation.

Use our social emotional learning worksheet to support this area.

Daily Feelings Check-In: A daily feelings check-in is an essential component of promoting mental health and emotional well-being in children. This routine practice encourages children to reflect on and communicate their emotions on a regular basis (Hoyt, 2015). By setting aside time each day to check in with their feelings, children learn to recognize patterns in their emotional experiences and develop coping strategies for managing stressors effectively. Implementing a daily feelings check-in routine can contribute to a positive emotional climate and support children’s overall well-being.

Mental Health: Mental health encompasses the emotional, psychological, and social well-being of individuals, including children. It influences how children think, feel, and behave, affecting their ability to cope with stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices (World Health Organization, 2014). Prioritizing mental health in childhood lays the foundation for lifelong emotional resilience and contributes to positive outcomes in various areas of development. By promoting awareness and understanding of mental health, parents and caregivers can support children in maintaining optimal well-being.

Emotional Well-being: Emotional well-being refers to the state of being able to cope with the ups and downs of life, experiencing a sense of balance and fulfillment in one’s emotions. For children, emotional well-being encompasses feeling secure, valued, and supported in their emotional experiences (Keyes, 2002).

Fostering emotional well-being involves creating a nurturing environment that promotes self-awareness, emotional regulation, and healthy relationships. By prioritizing emotional well-being, parents and caregivers empower children to navigate life’s challenges with resilience and optimism.

Conflict Resolution: Conflict resolution skills are essential for fostering positive relationships and managing interpersonal conflicts effectively. Teaching children how to resolve conflicts peacefully and constructively promotes social-emotional development and communication skills (Cohen & Adelman, 2004). Encouraging children to express their feelings, listen actively, and work together to find mutually beneficial solutions builds empathy and promotes understanding. By equipping children with conflict resolution skills, parents and educators empower them to navigate conflicts in a respectful and productive manner.

Feelings Chart: A feelings chart is a visual tool that provides children with a range of emotions and corresponding facial expressions, helping them identify and label their feelings (Ekman, 1999). By referring to a feelings chart during check-ins, children can gain insight into their emotional experiences and learn to communicate their feelings effectively. Utilizing a feelings chart promotes emotional awareness and vocabulary development, empowering children to express themselves authentically and seek support when needed.

Something like emotions crafts can help with this, with the child population.

Build Self-awareness: Building self-awareness is a foundational skill for emotional intelligence and personal growth. Helping children develop self-awareness involves encouraging self reflection on their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Brackett et al., 2006). Engaging in check-in routines and activities that prompt children to describe their emotions and reflect on their experiences fosters self-awareness. By nurturing self-awareness, parents and educators empower children to recognize their strengths, weaknesses, and emotional needs, laying the groundwork for healthy self-esteem and personal development.

Check-in Routine: A check-in routine provides children with a structured opportunity to reflect on their emotions and share their experiences in a safe and supportive environment. Consistent check-ins help children develop a habit of self-reflection and communication, promoting emotional well-being and resilience (Denham & Brown, 2010). Establishing a check-in routine at home or in educational settings encourages open dialogue and strengthens relationships between children and caregivers. By making check-ins a regular part of daily life, parents and educators demonstrate the importance of emotional expression and connection.

Describing Your Emotions: Encouraging children to describe their emotions is a fundamental aspect of promoting emotional intelligence and self-expression. Providing children with language to articulate their feelings helps them understand and communicate their emotional experiences effectively (Gross & Levenson, 1997).

Prompting children to describe their emotions during check-ins fosters emotional literacy and communication skills, empowering them to express themselves authentically and seek support when needed. By validating and exploring children’s emotions, parents and educators promote emotional well-being and strengthen the parent-child or teacher-student relationship.

Another tool for describing emotions is using self reflection games that support this skill.

Another fantastic resource that can help develop social and emotional skills is the activity book, Exploring Books Through Play.

This digital E-BOOK is an amazing resource for anyone helping kids learn about acceptance, empathy, compassion, and friendship. In Exploring Books through Play, you’ll find therapist-approved resources, activities, crafts, projects, and play ideas based on 10 popular children’s books. Each book covered contains activities designed to develop fine motor skills, gross motor skills, sensory exploration, handwriting, and more. Help kids understand complex topics of social/emotional skills, empathy, compassion, and friendship through books and hands-on play.

The book Exploring Books Through Play, has 50 different activities based on popular children’s books. Each book is used for 5 different activities that cover a variety of areas: sensory play, crafts, gross motor activities, fine motor activities, handwriting, scissor skills, and so much more.

social emotional activities for kids

How to Use Emotions Check-In Practices?

It’s time to put the magic of emotions check-ins into action. Whether you’re at home, in school, or at therapy, here’s your guide to incorporating these practices:

Emotion Check-ins At Home

In the home, teaching key regulation strategies can support a lifetime of emotional wellbeing. During the day to day tasks is when we can see breakdowns because of stress, worries, frustration, or other things going on. Supporting the highs and lows of emotions with acceptance and love at home is key.

  • Daily Check-Ins: Make emotions check-ins a part of your daily routine. Set aside a few minutes, maybe during dinner or before bedtime, for each family member to share how they’re feeling. 
  • Create a Feelings Chart: Get creative! Make a feelings chart together, using drawings, stickers, or even emojis to represent different emotions. Hang it up where everyone can see, making it a visual reminder to check in with their feelings.
  • Feeling Journals: Encourage kids to keep feeling journals, where they can jot down their emotions throughout the day. This not only reinforces the practice but also serves as a valuable tool for parents to understand their kid’s emotional experiences.

Emotion Check-ins at School

At school, a self-regulation group activity could be an emotions check in. Whether you use tools from regulation curriculum like the Alert program or Zones of Regulation, you can pull pieces that work with your population and specific needs.

  • Morning Check-Ins: Start the school day with a quick emotions check-in. It could be as simple as a thumbs-up, thumbs-down, or in-between. Teachers can use this to gauge the emotional temperature of the class and address any concerns.
  • Integrate into Lessons: Incorporate emotions check-ins into various subjects. For instance, during a language arts class, students can express their emotions through writing, or in a science class, they can relate emotions to different states of matter.
  • Classroom Mood Meter: Implement a mood meter in the classroom, allowing kids to place their names on the section of the chart that best represents their current emotional state. It fosters a sense of community and allows teachers to be aware of the emotional needs of their students.
  • Collaborate with Parents: Keep parents in the loop by sharing the emotions check-in routine with them and encouraging them to continue the practice at home. This creates a bridge between the school and home environments.

Emotion Chck in At Therapy

Therapy sessions can support emotional wellbeing and self regulation goals through specific tools that the student, client, or patient can practice and then try during daily tasks.

  • Emotion Check-In Ritual: Start therapy sessions with a dedicated emotions check-in ritual. It could be a verbal check-in or using tools like a feelings chart or mood meter. This sets the tone for the session and helps the child and therapist understand the emotional landscape.
  • Emotion Exploration Activities: Incorporate activities that delve into emotions to help children express and explore their feelings in a comfortable setting. These activities can be tailored to the child’s age and interests. 
  • Develop Coping Strategies: Based on the identified emotions, work together to create personalized coping tools. These can range from simple deep breathing exercises to more complex strategies tailored to the child’s needs.

Remember, the key is to make emotions check-ins a natural and integrated part of the environment, whether at home, in school, or during therapy. 

Moreover, consistency and open communication lay the foundation for these practices to be effective in supporting emotional well-being.

In conclusion, emotions check-ins aren’t about fixing emotions but empowering kids to understand, navigate, and regulate their feelings.

Whether at home, in school, or in therapy, integrating these practices can lay the foundation for emotional intelligence and well-being.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Emotions check in

More Posts Like This