The Feelings Thermometer


You know what’s hard when you’re little (and sometimes even when you’re big)?  Verbalizing feelings.

We tell kids to use their words.  We want them to say what they mean.  We want them to use a calm voice to describe what’s going on, even when what’s going on feels extremely urgent and fills them with anger or stress.

Kids need help learning to verbalize their feelings.  That’s where the “Feelings Thermometer” comes in handy.

Even really young kids can understand that your temperature rises when you have a fever and goes down when you are healthy.  Explain that when you’re angry, worried, or under stress, your temperature rises.  You feel uncomfortable, your muscles are tense, and you might even have a headache or stomach pains.  But when you’re happy…you feel cool.  Your body is calm and feeling good.

Draw an example for your kids to visualize the metaphor.  Little faces and different colors for different feelings can help.  Describe each feeling in detail – from how you might act to how your body might feel.

Have your kids practice with one when they’re calm.  When they’re sad or worried, revisit the thermometer and fill out a new one.  And when they’re angry – have them color it red, red, red!  Both verbalizing their emotion and the act of coloring it in can provide some relief from the big feelings, and help your child calm down enough to talk about it and think about some solutions.

What are you waiting for?  Go ahead and get those thermometers up on the fridge!

About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)