Recognize and Describe Emotions

Working with preschoolers to connect what they are feeling with language will help them better recognize their emotions

matching emotion cards with pictures

What You Need to Know

Children express a wide range of emotions. At times, these emotions can be strong and overwhelming for them. Because they are still learning to understand and regulate their needs, wants, and feelings, these strong emotions can lead to behaviors that teachers find challenging such as hitting, yelling, or tantrums. Helping children recognize and describe their feelings will help them begin to express their emotions with language and develop empathy.

What It Looks Like

A quick glance at how you can help preschoolers learn to recognize and describe emotions

Practice Labeling Emotions

Label emotions, including those of characters, to help children learn the names of a range of feelings – both positive and negative. Connect related facial expressions and body language to support children’s growing knowledge of these emotions.

Define Emotions

Discuss and describe emotions with children to prompt them to consider ‘why’ someone may be feeling a certain way. This experiential knowledge can be useful when they are experiencing similar feelings.

Label Emotions

Prompt children to label their own emotions to help them connect what they are feeling with language.


How Do You Feel?

In this 20-minute webinar, educational coaches Stephanie Adams and Caitlin Powell talk about how we can help children connect their feelings with language in virtual, hybrid, and socially distanced classroom environments.

Two young hands with a smiley face and frowny face painted on them
Young girl pointing to emotion chart


Working Through Emotions

Young children can feel strong emotions for a variety of reasons. This strategy suite presents evidence-based practices you can use to help children recognize, describe, and work through strong emotions as they arise.


Validating Strong Emotions

A tip sheet from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network lays out specific emotions that young children may be experiencing due to the current pandemic. Learn how you can listen and validate these big feelings.


Labeling Emotions at Home

This short video (including printables) from Sesame Street models how caregivers can talk with children about their emotions, label children’s emotions, and support their big feelings with strategies that are simple to implement at home.


Our Race-Related Memories

Dr. Beverly Tatum talks about the strong emotions linked to our race-related memories and the power of talking about race with children to help them understand their emotions and make sense of the world.



Written by Linda Ashman and illustrated by Christian Robinson, Rain! depicts how two different people feel and act on a rainy day. This simple yet upbeat story offers readers and listeners a chance to label and describe feelings.

A page from the book RAIN

Activity Cards for Preschool Classrooms

Part of the STREAMin3 curriculum, these activity cards provide simple and fun ways you can help children explore, describe, and reflect on their emotions
icon mirror mirror
express yourself

Mirror, Mirror

Have children make a range of facial expressions as part of this fun activity.

icon how do they feel card
name that feeling

How Do They Feel?

Make up interesting stories that encourage children to identify feelings in others.

icon emotion songs
sing about it

Emotion Songs

Help children identify and act out emotions with a song.

emotion charades icon
act it out

Emotion Charades

Children can take turns acting out and guessing different emotions.


Get Our Resource Guide

Includes questions and activities to guide your use of the videos, book suggestions, and activity cards featured for each of our core social-emotional skills