Giving kids a vocabulary rich in emotion words is one of the best things you can do as a parent. This is particularly true if you are parenting kids who have experienced trauma, have anxiety or are on the autism spectrum. This Jenga Feelings Game is perfect for helping kids talk about their emotions and experiences, building their vocabulary of emotion words and improve their communication skills.
I love finding ways to make this kind of teaching fun. Presenting a therapeutic activity as a game is a great way to help your child feel relaxed. Being relaxed is an important element to learning. It means your child can access all of their brain instead of being in their “lizard brain” which happens when they are feeling under stress or for any other reason are in fight, flight or freeze mode.
One of my daughters played a version of this in therapy and as soon as she told me about it, I knew we could easily make one to play at home too. We have since invented different versions of the game. Some of my kids have an easier time talking about their feelings and past experiences than others so I have found ways to adapt it accordingly. The key is to make sure they feel comfortable and relaxed. This will ensure that any learning is effective and will make it more enjoyable for everyone.
To create this Feelings Jenga Game, you will need a Jenga game. You can use a permanent marker to write feeling words on the side of the wood blocks in the game or I have created printable feeling words that can be cut out and attached to the Jenga blocks with double-sided tape or glue. In the printables, I have also left some blank so that you can add in any other feelings words that you would like to focus on.
Once the blocks have feeling words on them, set them up as you would in a regular Jenga game. There are two variations to the set up. You can face the words in so that you can’t see them or you can face the words out so that most of them will be visible during the game. For kids who are particularly apprehensive of not being able to see the words on the inside, you can have them do the set-up so that they know what even the few hidden words are.
One way to play this game is to have to describe the word that you pull out before placing it on top. This is a nice introductory way to play and especially good for kids who don’t have a strong emotion word vocabulary.
Another way to play this game is to have the person who draws the block have to describe a time or experience in their life when they felt that particular emotion. You can expand on this by having them explain how that felt and how they coped with that positive or negative feeling.
For kids who are just starting this game or who are less comfortable talking about their feelings, it will be less difficult if the words are visible because they can pull ones that are easier for them to talk about. As they grow more comfortable with the game and with expressing their feelings, they may reach a point where they are comfortable pulling out blocks even when they can’t see what the word will be.
If you know that this particular child is too vulnerable to be able to discuss certain emotions, it may be best to not include those words in the game the first few times you play. Ease into things at their pace.
This game allows children to express their experiences and feelings in a non-threatening way. Of course, modelling is another great thing about the Feelings Jenga game because it allows you to participate and model how to talk about feelings and times in your own life when you have felt those things. The child you are playing with may be able to relate to those experiences and have a “me too” moment, which can be very powerful.
This game is great for communication skills, lowering anxiety and normalizing talking about emotions and life experiences, both challenging and successful.
The Feelings Jenga game is just one of the many resources included in our Teaching Emotions Toolkit, which includes everything needed for parents or teachers to help kids learn about emotions and how to better manage their own feelings.
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