When our children were very young – babies and toddlers – I was very attuned to their emotional state and the goings-on in their day. This was because I had witnessed all of it. (The gift of maternity leaves and part-time work!)
But when they began school, much of their day happened away from me. So we began practicing a “review of the day” at suppertime.
This is much easier an exercise than it looks. Our introvert would summarize her day thusly: “It was good.” With probing, she would expand: “I don’t remember.” Our little extrovert offered an unstoppable flood of words, not touching her food, not pausing to catch her breath lest someone interrupt her.
So I went out to our local teacher’s supply store and bought a poster depicting different human emotions. Something like this (only ours had triple the photos):
Then I cut all the squares into individual cards and put them in a basket.
Here’s how it works. At supper, each child chooses 3 cards to describe the different emotions they felt during the day. If they want the same card, they share it (yeah, when they were little it sometimes took some parental direction). When it comes to their turn to review their day, they show us their cards and then explain why they felt shy, or tired, or proud etc. Mike and I participate as well. I used to pull out these cards about once a week, although it’s become less frequent of late.
This is a very simple idea that has worked well in our family. It has given our introvert a structure to encourage conversation and it has provided boundaries for our extrovert. When our kids were little, it had the added benefit of teaching them to name emotions, an important life skill in learning to respond to and manage feelings. As a mother, it gives me insight into my children’s general emotional state, for me an invaluable gift. And as the research talks about the importance of warm, parent-child relationships in the inter-generational transmission of faith, this is easy way to nurture those kind of connected conversations.
This is a tool that is attractive to children, not tweens or teens. I would recommend it for children around the ages of 2-11. (Our twelve year old still participates, but that is most likely because she grew up with the tool and is a cooperative kind of kid.)
You don’t have to buy a poster board either. If you google “emotion for kids” and then click the Images tool, lots of printable resources turn up. I do recommend having concrete images to work with, because the process of sorting through the pictures helps kids in reviewing their day, and readies them to share.