Between the ages of 2 and 6, we humans undergo one of the most dramatic developmental shifts of our lifetimes, transforming from infants into children. This huge change naturally leads to “big feelings,” and children of this age who experience environmental stressors – such as, for example, a pandemic – might experience more intense emotions than usual.

This can lead to frustration which, particularly for pre-verbal children, can lead to lashing or acting out. Fostering children’s abilities to gain control of their bodies, and to express their feelings in healthy ways, not only helps kids feel calmer and more in control, it also benefits families by cutting down on tantrums, violence, and other potentially hurtful behaviors.

The following games and activities are designed to help children take control of their bodies, especially when they are experiencing one or more strong feelings. They’re also great ways to bond as a family.

Red Light / Green Light 

Ask children to pretend that they are vehicles and to zoom around the room. At random intervals, yell out, “Red light!” When children hear red light, they must stop their bodies from moving. They are not allowed to move again until you yell out, “Green light!” To mix the game up, ask them to try different kinds of movements, like running, skipping, galloping, and jumping. 

Freeze Dance

Put on some music and dance together! When the music stops, everyone has to freeze. Start dancing when the music starts again! This game is fun to play as a family, but it’s also easy to do while you are doing household chores and need to keep kids busy. 

Feelings Dance

In this dance game, there’s no freezing – only listening, to the music, and to our bodies. This time, instead of stopping the music, change between different styles and tempos. After each change, as your child how the music makes them feel. Happy? Sad? Angry? Surprised? Scared? Ask them to move their body to the music to express their feelings. This is a great technique for both helping children gain the language for expressing themselves, and for understanding how their body reacts to different emotions.

Go on a Sound Scavenger Hunt

You’ve probably played I Spy before. But have you played I Hear? Do this activity in your home, in your yard, in your car, on a walk, or on public transportation. Encourage your child to be quiet. Ask them what they hear. Birds singing? Cars zooming? People speaking? This activity helps children learn how to be active listeners, and also how to still their bodies and observe their surroundings. 

Draw Your Feelings

When children are upset, give them a piece of paper and some markers and ask them to draw a picture about what they’re feeling. Drawing is not only physical activity – which can be cathartic – it also helps children overcome the frustration they often feel at not having the language to describe what they are feeling. Getting children in the habit of drawing what they feel instead of lashing out physically shows them that they have an alternative for expressing their feelings that they can access themselves.

 

Mathangi Subramanian, Ed.D., believes stories have the power to change the world. Her middle grades book, Dear Mrs. Naidu, won the South Asia Book Award, and her picture book A Butterfly Smile was inducted into the Nobel Museum by Laureate Dr. Esther Duflo. Her novel A People’s History of Heaven was longlisted for the PEN/Faulkner award, a finalist for the LAMBDA literary award, and named a Skipping Stones Honors Book. A former public school teacher, senior policy analyst at the New York City Council, and Fulbright Scholar, she currently consults for Sesame Workshop. She holds a doctorate in education from Columbia Teachers College.