Friday, July 20, 2012

Using Facial Expression Charts

This week in therapy our therapist discussed how our youngest has trouble identifying his feelings and doesn’t know how to self-soothe. I can see examples of this often when our little one gets really upset, he tends to display anger (something he has learned from big brother), but if I calmly tell him, “You look upset, do you need a hug?” He quickly drops the expressions of anger and goes into tears and climbs into my lap for a hug.

Our therapist explained that if we could help him identity his true feelings, we can begin training him on how to self-soothe. So the first thing she suggested was using a facial expression mood chart and having him pick out the expression he is feeling inside. You can find these charts online by googling images or may have seen them hanging in your therapist’s office.

Today my little one was very upset about playing a game with his brothers so I decided it was the perfect opportunity to try this chart out. This is how it went:

I told my son that he looked upset and asked, “What are you feeling?” He had trouble putting it into words so I had him look over the facial expression chart and asked him to pick out what he was feeling inside.

He calmed down, looking curious about this game mom was offering and selected the “sad face”. So I said, “so you’re feeling sad?” With a big pout he nodded, “yes”. Then I asked him what he could do to make himself happy, while pointing to the “happy face”. At first he said, “I don’t know.” Then I encouraged him to really think about it. Then he said, “Play another game?” I praised his conclusion and thankfully he was able to move on to another game.

So is this easy as cake? Not so much. The next time I tried to encourage our son to self-soothe he was more resistant. Our therapist explained that this method will need to be done many times a day in order for him to slowly learn how to do this on his own and as a result be more in control of his emotions.

So has anyone else used these charts for therapy with their kids and care to share?


  1. I think this is called Alexithymia.

    1. Hmmm. very interesting stuff, I looked it up and saw some similarities to what they described, here are some examples:
      The distinguishing factor was their inability to elaborate beyond a few limited adjectives such as "happy" or "unhappy" when describing these feelings. ...sense of emotional detachment from themselves and difficulty connecting with others. ... they seem oriented toward things and even treat themselves as robots. ...think in an operative way. ...these individuals avoid emotionally close relationships. Alexithymia frequently co-occurs with other disorders, with a representative prevalence ...40% in posttraumatic stress disorder.

  2. I think I had a simplified version of a feelings chart that I used briefly with my son when he was about 6. But I think that he tends to default to anger without being able to recognize what he was feeling to start with.