Some of the most interesting and fun activities are the ones that are sudden inspirations for us. The other day we got a set of stickers for the new movie, Inside Out (a Pixar film that looks great, but we haven’t yet seen). And the girls LOVE stickers! G asked me immediately if we could play with the stickers. I had grown weary of the way they have been “playing” with stickers lately – sticking them all over their bodies and then onto the tile floor for me to scrape up later; so I said, “Let’s do something special with them!”
G responded, “We could put them on paper!”
I said, “That’s a great idea!”
And in that moment a sudden inspiration hit and I knew that these stickers would be an opportunity to talk about emotions with my young ones. And I knew I needed to take the opportunity to show them what God’s Word has to say about our emotions and help them to direct them in positive ways. Over the past couple of weeks, we have taken the opportunity to work on each of the emotions represented in Inside Out and talk about God’s wisdom.
You see, the reason I thought it was important to talk about God’s ways of handling emotions was because I had a strong suspicion that Inside Out would in some small way glorify the emotions that are not what God wants of our kids (or us!). I suspected they would make Anger something cute, or funny, or appealing – and I didn’t want my girls to find Anger attractive. I also suspected that Disgust would be something that would be directed at parents or authority figures. Again, I have not seen the movie, but I felt like I could see where they were headed. Rather than allow my girls to watch the movie or play with the toys related to the movie and get all their concepts of emotions from them, I wanted to direct them to the Word of God.
Our activity was a very simple one which we did for each of the emotions. It involved 3 steps.
1. Pick a sticker to put on paper. I let the girls take turns picking which emotion we would talk about. And they put the sticker where they wanted it on the paper.
2. At the top of the paper, I wrote the name of the emotion. Then I talked about what the word means – a very, simple toddler definition. Then I asked them to tell me the things that make them feel that emotion and wrote those down. I tried to give them ample time to think it over and tried to listen closely to what they had to say and wrote it down faithfully.
3. Then I introduced a Bible story (where possible) to demonstrate the emotion, followed by a piece of wisdom from God’s Word. We wrote the one verse that I felt spoke as directly to their hearts as possible for the emotion at the bottom of the paper.
This results of this process were pretty amazing for G. W (2.5 years-old) is still getting a handle on them, but G (newly 4-years-old) has really demonstrated understanding of each of the emotions. The morning we went over Anger, G got upset at her sister and lashed out in anger. I took her over to the refrigerator (where we had hung our sticker-bedecked paper) and talked to her about Anger and we went over the Bible verse. She immediately got it and she apologized and we went on about our morning. A little bit later, the tables turned, and it was I who raised my voice in Anger to my girls. G immediately looked at me and said, “Mama, we were talking about Anger.” That was all it took! God’s Word is my mirror as well as hers!
We enjoyed this process and activity so much, I thought I would share with you the specifics for each emotion, with a little bit more detail about the conversations we had about the emotions. Feel free to use the ideas in this to talk with your toddlers about emotions.
For this emotion, we read the story of Cain and Abel from our Children’s Favorite Bible Stories (affiliate link). As we read, we talked about brothers and sisters and being upset with one another. That sometimes being angry causes us to do “no-nos” and to hit others. And then we talked about this verse:
“An angry man stirs up trouble and an angry man has many sins.” Proverbs 25:23
When G is struggling with outbursts of anger, I simply take her over to the Bible verse (now hanging on the refrigerator) and ask her a couple of questions related to the verse: “Do you want to stir up trouble?” and “Do you want to have lots of no-nos?” Usually the answer is no on both accounts. And so we talk about what we need to do with our anger: talk to God about it! We make any necessary apologies and move on!
This is the hardest of the emotions to talk about with toddlers! But as we talked, we settled on Disgust being things that make you go, “Eww.” We talked about the things that make us go, “Eww” are things we don’t like. I helped them to understand that there will always be things that make you go, “Eww,” but that we shouldn’t feel that way about our parents’ or about God’s instruction. We read the passage in Proverbs 3 from a father to a son out of our Children’s Favorite Bible Stories (affiliate link). And we settled on this verse as our verse for Disgust:
“My daughter, do not reject the discipline of the LORD or be disgusted at His correction.” Proverbs 3:11
Oh, we worked on our best “Eww” faces…it was hard not to smile!
This is probably the easiest of emotions to talk about! We read the story of the Prodigal Son, focusing on the happiness and joy of the father when the son returned. We read it from our Read Aloud Bible Stories, Vol.2 (one of the coolest children’s Bible resources I have seen – affiliate link). And then we talked about this verse:
“Sing for joy in the LORD, O you good ones; Praise is beautiful to the good.” Psalm 33:1
We also took this opportunity to sing with joy to the LORD!
We read the story of Peter walking with Jesus on the water and talked about how his fear turned into faith in God. This really worked for G because she had just told me that she is afraid of ghosts when we talked about what makes her scared. Peter thought that Jesus walking on the water was a ghost. We talked about how he called out to Jesus to save him and it led right into talking about what we do when we are scared. And this verse was our guide for how to deal with fear:
“In the fear of the LORD there is strong trust, And His children will have a safe place.” Proverbs 14:27
G seemed to really like the idea that she had a safe place in Jesus!
We talked about happy faces and sad faces. And we worked on showing each other our happiest and saddest faces. We read the story of “The Sad Day and the Happy Day” from our Read Aloud Bible Stories (affiliate link). And we talked about this verse:
“A joyful heart makes a happy face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken.” Proverbs 15:13
Talking about sadness is really helping us to introduce thoughts of empathy with the girls. We ask how they would feel if they were in specific sad circumstances and they get it! They realize they would be sad, too!
As with all Bible activities with toddlers, there is more to the story. But I am generally focused on helping them to get a basic understanding of emotions. And, as with other things in life, I want them to get used to going to the Word of God to find answers to the problems of life. I want them to know that it is the final Word in our house. All the opportunities to go deeper with them will come, but I hope to be building a foundation upon which they can build their lives.
How do you explore emotions with your toddlers and preschoolers? I would love to hear from you!