10 Tips for Teaching Emotions in February

With Valentine’s Day coming up, I thought it would be a great time to share some tips about understanding emotions communicating them effectively.

By: Gianna Fernandez, M.A., BCBA, Director of Clinical Operations for Engage Behavioral Health


Many children with autism find it difficult to understand and communicate their feelings, which can lead to tantrums. Creating a way for children to communicate their feelings can help reduce this behavior, but that is easier said than done. After all, many of us have trouble communicating our feelings too!

With Valentine’s Day, arguably the holiday with the most emphasis on emotion, coming up, I thought it would be a great time to share some tips that parents of children with autism can use teach their children about understanding emotions communicating them effectively.

1. Look at pictures of emotions and talk about facial features while discussing possible reasons to feel that way

2. Pretend play. Contrive situations to model different emotions. For example, pretend you bumped your elbow and demonstrate crying. Label the emotion, as well as the reason. “I’m sad. I bumped my elbow, and it really hurts.”

3. Practice opposite emotions at the same time. For example, if you are demonstrating sadness or anger, immediately follow with happy or excited in the appropriate context.

4. Make it a game. Use visual scenarios that your child is familiar with and have him or her match the emotion with each scenario. Every correct answer gets positive reinforcement.

5. Look at family pictures of past occasions and go over family members’ facial expressions as they relate to each event. For example, look at past birthday parties and point out all the different smiles and facial indications of being happy, surprised, excited, etc.

6. Point out your emotional state in the natural environment. For example, when your child does something well, provide a statement. "What a great job, that makes me happy!"

7. Point out other people's emotions in the natural environment. Come up with reasons why they may be expressing that emotion. For example, while at the playground, attend to a child laughing or crying and rehearse reasons for displaying that emotion with your child.

8. Use social stories. Social stories can be effective tools to help teach social skills to children. Create or use stories that provide examples of common social situations and emotions that go with them. Include how to respond to each emotional situation.

9. Use online games or apps. Many children enjoy playing computer games and/or apps on smartphones and tablets. These can be effective (and portable) learning tools for teaching about emotions. The Internet has many games and activities to help children learn about emotions in a way that is fun and keeps them engaged.

10. Deliver appropriate verbal phrases to describe your child's current emotions. For example, if your child is smiling and excited, prompt the phrase “I am happy. I am excited."


About Engage Behavioral Health

Engage Behavioral Health, formerly Advanced Behavioral Systems, is a leading provider of Applied Behavior Analysis and Applied Verbal Behavior services. Engage’s unique, collaborative approach brings parents and health care providers together to provide treatment within a safe, natural environment. Through research-based, data-driven methods, Engage focuses on the needs of both individuals and their families. For more information, please visit www.EngageBehavioralHealth.com. Follow on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/EngageBehavioralHealth, or on Twitter at @Engage_ABA.

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