Games That Help Kids Discuss Their Emotions


The following is exempted from an actual conversation I had with my son, and I’m willing to bet that it plays out in households and classrooms nationwide.

You: "Hey. How are you?"

Your student or child: "Fine."

You: "What's going on?"  

Them: "Nothing."

Everywhere, parents and teachers of teens can relate to not having the slightest clue as to how their kids are feeling.

Of course, we want to know. We care about them, and adolescence is a thorny time. 

I've started literally playing games to find out how my kids are feeling. And it's working. It's encouraging us as a family to share more. We even got a feelings color wheel poster to help us all capture the shifting moods of adolescence (and adulthood). “Anxious with a side of jealousy,” anyone?

These games are upping our emotional intelligence (EQ), which is the ability to reason with and about emotions.

Teens who are skilled at handling their emotions are healthier. They are calmer. They make better, more clear-eyed decisions. They become confident, mature adults. According to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, other benefits of EQ for students include increased self-awareness, empathy, emotional regulation, and social skills.

Some of my family's favorite emotional development games involve special playing cards that can be ordered online, but most require only what you have already—paper and pen and an open-mind. Here is a list of the ones we return to again and again:

Feelings Playing Cards, illustrated by Jim Borgman (creator of the famous “How Are You Feeling Today?” poster), have helped my kids identify a variety of facial expressions from the simple mad and sad, to the more complex confident, hysterical, smug, and love-struck. It’s prompted my son to suggest that I seem “overwhelmed” most of the time, which is true.  

Feelings Pantomime is a family favorite. It teaches the importance of body language as players take turns acting out emotions. It’s like charades. For feelings. It’s so fun. The kids dissolve into laughter, especially when it’s my turn and I act out “happy” by dancing like Snoopy.

Debate help teens—notoriously inflexible and emotional in their thinking—identify their biases and see different perspectives. They learn empathy, flexibility, and how to argue well. (A mother groans, but in the long term, the ability to form a logical argument is a great skill.)

Buffalo, The Name-Dropping Game is a great icebreaker of quick connections. You draw a descriptor card (“annoying”) and a person card (“pop star”). The game facilitates imagination, emotional vocabulary, listening skills, and rewards your teen’s knowledge of pop culture, politics and history. Name an undead superhero! A silly politician! Go!

Awkward Moment makes a game of our many ::facepalm:: moments. “You think you see a friend coming and you wave like crazy...and then realize it’s not her.” “You’re texting, and trip, and fall into a fountain.” My kids say this game is the most true-to-life. It has helped them lean into the awkwardness and find solutions to common adolescent (and adult) #soembarassing situations.