How many times have you felt emotionally exhausted this year?! I think I’ve lost track at this point. Our emotions have been tested to the limits, and a lot of our own difficulties in coping with emotions have come to light. But what about our children? Imagine feeling the wide range of emotions you already do, but not being able to control them at all; that would be extremely overwhelming! I think we often forget that children are not born with the ability to regulate their emotions, and they often feel overwhelmed by them. Intellectually, many of us know this, but when our child is throwing a tantrum because we didn’t put the peanut butter on bread “the right way”, it’s kind of hard to remember that they’re not little adults. Now, more than ever, we need to help teach our children to recognize their emotions and understand them. Understanding our emotions – both good, bad, and in-between – will help normalize all of them for children. But how do you teach your child about emotions without being a therapist? Enter the Mood Crew from the Depression Support Bipolar Alliance (DBSA), a fun curriculum of tools that help children learn emotions with their parents.
If you’re unfamiliar with DBSA, they are a national organization dedicated to helping people with mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder, as well as helping family members to understand mood disorders. DBSA focuses on peer-based support groups with over 600 groups nationwide, as well as education materials to teach others, and other support tools for the public to learn from. Over 21 million Americans suffer from mood disorders, and they account for a lot of mental health issues we experience in this country. DBSA has a wealth of resources aimed at older teenagers and adults, but wanted to also provide materials for helping younger children identify and learn with their emotions, so they created the DBSA Mood Crew.
DBSA recognizes that more children and young adults are being diagnosed with depression, self-harm urges, and anxiety at higher rates than ever before. As a therapist, I see firsthand how many more adolescents than usual are reporting mental health issues, and I’ve experienced firsthand how much more difficult it is to discuss emotions with younger children. But with a little creativity, plus a curriculum created by therapists and mood disorder experts, we can introduce young children to emotional wellness and how to carry that with them throughout their lives.
What is the DBSA Mood Crew?
The DBSA mood crew is a free workbook curriculum for ages 4-10 that contains games, activities, and fun educational materials that teach children about emotions. The curriculum has 10 different emotions: happy, sad, lonely, scared, angry, worried, calm, embarrassed, excited, and confident. Personally, I love that all the emotions look so much like the feelings they represent. Excited and Calm are tied for my two favorites, because of how accurate their depictions are of these feelings (but honestly I tend to be more of a Worried character).
The workbook has bios for each of the emotions to personalize them, and even includes their favorite foods! Here’s my buddy Calm’s bio; I love that this includes his favorite food and activities to do.
How can I use the Mood Crew with my child?
Now that we’ve all had to take on the role of teacher, in addition to our regular roles as parents, we may feel pressured to come up with activities for our kids to do. On top of that, we may feel we need to have educational activities that don’t just involve a bunch of worksheets! I know I find myself wishing that I had special training in early education as well as special education. I do know that children learn best through play, so using the Mood Crew materials to play games or have engaging discussions is a great way to start teaching your children about emotions, and how to recognize them in themselves. Plus these are activities that you can do together as a family, without the use of any screens.
Here is an example of one of the games included in the Mood Crew workbook:
What I love about this game is that it gives you the basic framework and tools, and then you can have fun trying it out with your children. It might not go exactly as planned, but you can have fun with it while at the same time teaching your kids how to express emotions. My son is 3.5 and has a speech delay, but I see him sometimes pretending to be happy or sad, and this would be a perfect activity in order to help him continue to normalize his emotions, as well as to work on his expressive language. Here’s what happened when we tried to play the game:
These activities are best done together with your children because you can provide even more context and descriptions of emotions beyond the workbooks. You can also have your kids complete an emotion log for fun, and use coloring pages as a way to spark discussions about emotions. A lot of the activities have prompts to write about emotions, but for younger children this can be modified to be more of a drawing or talking activity. With almost 60 pages in the workbook, you will have activities for weeks or even months to come!
My Biggest Takeaway
Reviewing this curriculum reminded me that we all need to have our emotions validated, even when they are big, feel irrational, or silly. We also need to remember that it is okay to feel negative emotions such as anger, embarrassment, loneliness, and fear. The more we fight these emotions or try to push them away, the stronger they become and the more we end up experiencing them in the long run; feeling stuck. As a therapist, I encourage you to feel your emotions and let them pass. Sometimes we do this automatically, but other times we need to remind ourselves that emotions don’t last forever. If we can start to teach these concepts to our children, we will give them the most valuable tool of all: emotional self-regulation, and a sense of peace.
This post is sponsored, but all opinions are my own.
To download the Mood Crew workbook, head to: https://www.dbsalliance.org/mood-crew/