The ability to identify and distinguish between different emotions is a core skill children start learning early in life.

  • As toddlers, most children can distinguish between major emotions like anger, fear, sadness and happiness.
    • They learn to read faces, tone of voice and body language, and can tell the difference between these emotional states in those around them.
    • As they start to develop language skills, it’s important they learn words to associate with these emotions.
  • As we get older, we learn there are more specific emotions, like frustration, joy and disgust.
    • We also learn here are more subtle versions of most emotions, like the difference between happiness, joy, contentment, elation and pride.

Helping a child build their emotional language gives them a better understanding of how to use words to express how they are feeling – a crucial component of Emotional Empowerment.

Enact Empowerment!

These activities will help you teach children how to understand the emotions of others and use these skills to strengthen their personal relationships.


1. Emotion Tree Diagram (appropriate for all ages)

Supplies needed:

  • Something to write with (pen, pencil, etc.).
  • Something to write on (large piece of paper, chalkboard, whiteboard or any other surface).


  1. Start by listing the most common emotions across the top (anger, fear, sadness, joy, love, surprise).
  2. Then, ask kids to name other emotions and continue writing them on the page.
    • For older children, have them categorize the emotions under the five main categories at the top (anger, fear, sadness, joy, disgust).
    • For younger children, ask them where they think it should go and then explain to them if they don't know.
  3. There are at least 135 different words that describe emotions. How many can you and your family put on the list?
  4. As you are creating your list, talk about each emotion word and what they mean.
    1. What is the difference between happiness and joy?
    2. What is the difference between angry and irate?

You can talk about real situations where one of you has experienced the emotion or make up stories about what might lead someone to feel a certain emotion.


Positive High Energy Mood Meter Positive Low Energy Mood Meter Negative Low Energy Mood Meter Negative High Energy Mood Meter


2. Create a mood meter (elementary)

Activity created by Dr. Marc Brackett at the Yale Emotional Intelligence Center. Use our PDF example as a guide.

  1. Children can place different emotion words in the different areas of the mood meter to show where they would go.
  2. If they have trouble thinking of emotion words to use, give them examples and explain where they would fall on the meter.
On Our Sleeves Mental Health Resource

Get your own Mood Meter.
Get a PDF copy of our Mood Meter to practice this activity by submitting your information below.