Dealing With Difficult Emotions: Naming Emotions

Family / Issues Kids Deal With //

In working with children of divorce, you will find that they are either dealing with emotions they have never felt before or dealing with an intensity of emotions they have never felt before. Either way they are ill-equipped to deal with those emotions, and in order to minister to them, you will need to find ways to help them process through those emotions. The first step in helping any child deal with difficult emotions (whether those be from the dissolution of their parents’ relationship or any other trauma) will be to help them recognize and name the emotions they are feeling. This week, and over the next several weeks, we will be looking at a number of ways to help kids identify and name the emotions they are experiencing.

pdf to share leftSome of these techniques and methods are very simple and provide you with insights into how the child is feeling. Other ways are more in depth and include you working more directly with the child. The one thing all of these methods have in common is helping children to recognize the emotions they are experiencing and putting a name to those emotions.

This week, we are going to look at several tools available online to increase a child’s “emotion vocabulary.” These tools are all useful both for kids who have been through some sort of traumatic life event and for giving any child a more robust emotional vocabulary. Much of what we learn about emotions is based on our own life experiences, and kids do not have those experiences in order to understand many of the emotions they are feeling. The resources presented in this article can be used in a number of way:

  1. To help kids experiencing new or unfamiliar emotions to try to find a name for that emotion.
  2. To prepare kids ahead of time by exploring different types of emotions.
  3. As a “cheat sheet” for emotion vocabulary building games like “emotions charades” or “mirroring emotions.” (Both of these will be addressed in more detail in later posts.
  4. To help adults who are not as comfortable with a range of emotions by providing them with a vocabulary for helping kids.

At Divorce Ministry 4 Kids, we do not believe in recreating the wheel, and most of the resources we share here (and over the next few weeks) were found on the internet. We have tried to give credit (and provide a link) to the original resource where we were able to track it down. We are grateful for those who have taken the time to develop these resources and make them available to those of us who work with kids. Full size copies of all of these resources are attached to the end of this documents for your use.



Black and White Emotion WheelWe found this emotion wheel on the General Emotion Pinterest Board of Hope 4 Hurting Kids. This wheel starts on the inside with some more common and known emotions and works out from there with related but slightly different nuanced or levels of expression of that emotion. For example, if a child tells you they are afraid, you can work out from the center of the wheel and discuss where that fear comes from. Is it born out of rejection, humiliation, insecurity, etc. etc. etc? From there you can dig even deeper. If the fear comes from rejection, is it based on the child feeling alienated or rejected. The whole process of working outward from the center will help the child to process the emotions they are feeling. We found this wheel at


feeling-wheelThis feelings wheel is another iteration of the idea presented above. This particular wheel was found on the Uncompromising blog from Sandy Sandmeyer. It was developed by Dr. Gloria Wilcox who is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in St Petersburg, Florida. You can use this wheel like the one above to discover nuance to different forms of emotions. Alternatively, you can use it to discover the potential root cause of emotions you might be seeing in a child. For example, suppose you have a child in your ministry that you would describe as discouraged feeling insignificant. In looking at the wheel, you would note that these emotions are linked to rejected and helpless respectively. Both are subsets of feelings of sadness which can guide how you minister to that child.


Emotion IntensityWe found this one posted on Pinterest from the site, so we don’t know the original of this guide, but it a useful tool nonetheless. For the emotions “Happy,” “Sad,” “Angry,” “Scared,” and “Confused,” this graphic provides synonyms for each emotions based on the intensity of the emotions. Intensity is measured as strong, mild or weak. One of the things we try to teach kids about dealing with emotions is that if they can recognize those emotions coming on when they are in the “weak” stage, they are much more easily managed than when they reach the “strong” stage. Working with a child using this chart can help them to understand the different stages of these emotions so that they can better process them.


scale_of_human_emotionsWe found this gem at on the Creative Minds Blog. This chart presents the “range” of emotions between two opposite emotions. For example, between Confidence and Insecurity are Assuredness, Safety, Indifference, Timidity/Hesitancy and Doubt. In addition to understanding different emotions and putting names to different emotions, this chart provides a useful tool for helping kids to understand how the emotions they are feeling fall on a spectrum of emotions. This is particularly helpful for older children who are capable of a broader and more robust introspection and understanding of their own emotions. That said, the chart can still be extremely useful for children of all ages and can be used to identify emotions and talk about the relationships between different emotions.






About the Author

Wayne Stocks is a happily married father of four. That didn’t stop God from calling him into ministry to children of divorce and in single-parent situations. Wayne’s mission is to minister directly to children of divorce, educate others on its effects on children, equip them to work with those kids, and call the church to serve, support and minister to them and their families. You can find out more about Wayne’s ministry at and more about him personally at