Talking to Your Kids About Feelings

By Gaan Akers, LPC, NCC | August 26, 2020

Many families have experienced some sort of disruption these past few months. Having conversations about social isolation, ways to stay safe in public spaces, or global and national news can bring up feelings like confusion, stress, or uncertainty. In preparation for these potentially heavy conversations, Hillside recommends building an emotional vocabulary with your family. Having a common language will increase the ability to identify and recognize feelings, which is especially helpful during challenging times.

People don’t often take the time to fully understand what they are feeling. They may feel that the emotion is unpleasant and choose to do something so that they don’t fully experience the unwanted emotion. However, emotions give us important information about ourselves and/or our situation, as well as prepare us for action. Having the language and vocabulary to express one’s feelings can be a helpful step in communicating our emotions!

At Hillside, we teach our clients to avoid judging or labeling their feelings as good or bad. They just are! We often remind our clients that some feelings may be unwanted or unpleasant and we can experience our feelings without acting upon the urges the feelings may bring. One of the goals in DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) is to help clients fully experience, understand, and regulate their emotions.

To teach your child about a spectrum of emotions, Hillside’s Recreation Therapy Department recommends incorporating a game with learning a new emotional vocabulary. Feelings Jenga is an activity designed for kids who have difficulty identifying and/or talking about emotions. Creating a Feelings Jenga game can help children answer emotion-specific questions while allowing for deeper conversations about understanding and managing emotions.


Purchase a Jenga Game and color one side of every block with either oil-based paint markers or colorful labels to represent an emotions/question categories (there will be 11 blocks of each color). On a piece of paper, write out a list of questions or prompts for each color category. When the game is assembled, players won’t know what color block is being pulled.

Hillside uses a minimum of 15 questions for each category. Our questions prompt the players to describe an experience when they felt that emotion, act out the emotion, problem- solve a scenario involving the emotion, etc. Here are some example prompts:

  • You found out you won a million dollars!  Show your joyful face.
  • You just got grounded.  Act out your reaction.
  • Talk about a time you felt afraid.  What helped you feel less afraid?
  • How can you comfort someone who feels sad?



Just follow the normal rules of Jenga. When someone pulls a block, they answer a question related to the corresponding emotion/color. When the tower falls over, start the game over.


  • Hillside Clinical Education & Referral Relations Manager - Gaan has been working with children, adolescents, and families for over 10 years in various settings. In her current role, she provides education and training for mental health professionals, parents, and the community. She lives in Atlanta with her husband. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking, climbing, and cooking. She is a donut aficionado and a national park enthusiast!

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