Many times, if young children are unable to act empathetic towards their siblings, friends, and classmates, it is not because they do not feel empathy, it is simply because they do not have the correct vocabulary to communicate their emotions.

Teaching children emotional vocabulary is a key part of conflict education at a young age. For a group activity, ask children: “What does feeling happy feel like? Look like? What color is it? What animal is a happy animal? What does feeling angry feel like? Look like? What color is it? What animal is an angry animal? How do we act when we are happy? When we are angry? How do we treat otherpeople?” Act these feelings and actions out in role-play, and role-play alternative responses.

By identifying feelings, we can talk about how various situations make us feel. Our goal is to encourage the children to use words to express feelings and thus to avoid some confrontations and conflicts. One activity to encourage talking about feelings was the following: Each child made stick puppets whose faces reflected basic emotions (happy, sad, mad). We discussed various situations (when a friend hurts you, when you have pizza for lunch, when a parent is sick, when you spend time with a grandparent…) and the children used the puppets to display how they would feel.

As a follow-up to this, we now have the children express their feelings, following a conflict, come up with a solution, shake hands to show they agree with it, and plan how to implement the solution. For example, following a physical argument between two children, they talked about why they were pushing and what they could do to make each other feel better. The solution was to listen when one person was asking the other something. The children made up with a hug and a handshake.


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