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Suggestions for using emotion monitoring cards

What can you do to help a child understand their emotions?

an emotion monitoring card with a sad face and the word upset beneath it

Visual support cards help to develop a child’s understanding of feelings.

upset face strategy cards that say 'you could...' ask for a hug, tell a teacher and have a quiet time

Strategies on the reverse can support the child to cope with those feelings.

When can you support a child to understand their emotions?

Ideally you should use these cards across all contexts at any time. You may wish to focus on particular contexts to begin with and prioritise times that a child finds it hard to manage their feelings.

How can you help a child understand their emotions?

three faces with a shared thought bubble above their heads containing a star

Choose one or two feelings to begin with. Make sure they are feelings you think the child displays.

To come up with the coping strategies you may need to observe the child or speak to someone who knows the child well. Look for little things that the child might do to calm themselves when they are cross, worried or upset.

The coping strategies are likely to be different for each child as everybody finds different things helpful.

green tickChoose strategies that the child will definitely be able to use in the context that you are using the card, for example, don’t give the option of ‘going outside’ if the child wouldn’t be able to do this.

Strategies could include things that the child can do without help from others, for example, put their head down on the desk, take deep breaths and so on. They could also be things that they need others for, for example, having a hug or asking for help.

Using visual supports

Visually support the feelings with symbols or photos of the child making the facial expression that goes with the feeling.

Visually support the strategies with symbols or photos that are meaningful, such as photos of the action or place.

When you notice the child showing signs of feeling, for example, ‘cross’, show them the card. Label the emotion, for example:

  • “I think you might be feeling cross”
  • “It looks like you are cross”
  • “I can see your cross face”

Or if the child’s language levels are very low simply label the emotion with one word, such as “cross”.

Using no language or specific language

lips and speech bubble with line through

Some children may cope better if you use no language at all and just show the card.

upset face strategy cards that say 'you could...' ask for a hug, tell a teacher and have a quiet time

Turn the card over to give the options of what they can do to help.

Use the language on the card to ensure you are consistent and don’t overload the child with too much information, for example:

“You could take a deep breath, count to 10”

hands moving around to indicate sign language

If the child copes better when you use no language, prompt them either with the word or just the sign for ‘choosing’.

person pointing to a card on a communications mat or picture sheet

If the child is unable to make a choice because they are too upset, cross or worried and you know which option will help them to calm then make the choice for them. Point to the option and support them to do it.

Use the words on the card to model the language for the strategy that the child is using, for example: “closing eyes”

You could work towards the following with the child

  1. The child identifying what they feel from a choice of emotions. When the child’s feelings are getting a bit ‘big’, offer them a choice of feelings cards. Start with a choice of 2.
  2. The child being able to use the cards independently. This could be showing you how they feel and independently choosing a strategy to use to soothe themselves.
  3. The child increasing the range of emotions and strategies that they can recognise and use.

Examples of what to do with each emotion the child is experiencing

an emotion monitoring card with a sad face and the word upset beneath it 


Top Tips

Depending on the level of ability of the child, you may wish to involve them in developing the cards, such as supporting them to identify coping strategies.

Depending on the level of ability of the child, you may talk about and agree how you will use the cards. You could decide whether the child will have the cards or whether it will just be the adults. Ideally, all adults who may be with the child will have the cards.

Use it as a whole class approach, for example, you could have big versions on the wall and ask the whole class to contribute to ideas of what helps them to cope with different feelings. Then model the use of the class resources when supporting any child with their feelings.

Some children may need the strategies to be very discreet such as, they may not like others seeing that they have a resource to use. Therefore cover the strategies in a one-to-one session so that the child can familiarise themselves with the strategies. Agree how the strategies will be used at times when the child needs support to manage how they feel.

Additional resources and information

This video is part of the Weekend Words series and explains emotion coaching.

Contact us

For more information please contact the Speech and Language Therapy Service at Flockton House on 0114 226 2333.

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: SL45

Resource Type: Article

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