It can sometimes feel uncomfortable to talk with toddlers about emotions. In particular, I always worry that showing angry or sad faces will make my children mirror those “negative” feelings. But it’s also incredibly important to give toddlers the emotional vocabulary to understand their own feelings, and those of others.
Here are five fun ways to play around with faces and expressions – including those sad ones – to help demystify all those big toddler emotions.
For the first game, I relied on a felt set that we own to make round faces and pieces to mix and match as facial features. If you don’t own such a set, glue felt onto cardboard circles for each face, and cut additional pieces of felt into various shapes for eyes, noses, and mouths.
Ovals and circles were great for eyes or open-mouthed surprise. A crescent moon was a perfect smile, and then immediately became a frown once turned upside down!
After showing Veronika a few examples, I encouraged her to design her own faces. Of course hers weren’t always recognizable, but she had the idea. She said this one was wearing a hat:
For the next version, I cut eyes, noses, and mouths from a magazine until I had a varied collection. Ideally the images would have been larger, but even with small pieces, Veronika enjoyed starting to mix and match them.
I showed her how to combine the features into faces that sometimes showed multiple emotions, often with silly results. This one looked quite surprised!
She also enjoyed turning the game into sensory play, helping glue them down and then lifting them up again for lots of sticky mixing and matching.
For the next version, we first needed to head outside to gather some nature treasures. Once home, I cut two eye holes into a paper plate and then invited Veronika to arrange her treasures any which way.
We ended up with something vaguely human (and perhaps on the spectrum between happy and creepy!). Your child might also enjoy making an animal face for this craft, instead of a human one, thanks to all those fluffy furry nature bits.
Mirrors are a fantastic way to let kids explore their emotions, so for the next round of face play we headed to the bathroom with our nature treasures. First, I invited Veronika to try out her expressions. Could she be happy and silly? Yes!
How about “slumpy” (her word for a mix of grumpy and sleepy)? Yup.
Now we made faces right over our reflections with shaving cream (you could also use washable paint). Now she could either play around with the shaving cream by hand or add a few more nature treasures to it, to alter the expressions.
Faces for the Trees:
Our final emotion game used nature, too, and this time we needed to make “forest putty” a.k.a. dirt mixed with water. We shoveled some dirt into a bucket and then Veronika watered it. Stir with a shovel or stick until your mixture looks a bit like brownie batter.
Now I asked Veronika if the trees had feelings, too! She decided yes, this tree was happy. We smeared on some of our forest putty, then gathered up treasures like dandelions and pine branches to give it a face. Our putty was a bit runny, so we had to make the face down low on the trunk, but if your mixture is more like clay, it might stick higher up on the trunk.
What expression will your favorite tree have? Please share in the comments!