Body Clues Activity: Emotional Expression and Identification for Anxious Kids

Internal emotions and external expression:

We all experience emotions internally and express them in slightly different ways from one another. We all have our inside emotional experiences and our outside displays of frustration, anger, and sadness.

When we experience a spike in emotions, it helps us know we may need to take the time to Stop and Think, using our Wizard Brain. Otherwise, our Lizard Brain might take over, leading to an explosive reaction.

Our Lizard Brain wants to react right away (it is in charge of fight, flight, and freeze, of course) – so if you notice yourself feeling heated, your Lizard Brain may tell you that you should explode and yell. However, if you take the time to stop and think “will I get in trouble if I explode?” you can make a wise decision, even when you start feeling upset.

How to help kids clue into their emotions:

Draw an outline of a body. It doesn’t have to be perfect! Try to get a head and arms and legs in there, and call it good.

Next, have your child pick out what emotion they want to talk about first. Remember, “good” or “bad” aren’t emotions - there’s no such thing as a good feeling or a bad feeling! Some feelings might be comfortable and some might be uncomfortable, but every emotion is helpful to recognize.

Pair emotions with colors.

After your child picks out a feeling they want to talk about first - happy, sad, tired, angry, mad, yucky, uncomfortable, ashamed, etc. have them pick out ANY color they want.

Ask them to color on the body drawing where they notice this feeling. When they feel happy, do they notice it in their belly? Their heart? Their head?

It’s EXTREMELY helpful if you do this activity at the same time - you can demonstrate by sharing where you notice that emotion in your body, and how you can tell you feel happy instead of sad or hungry.

Process each emotion, one at a time:

How do they know they feel angry and not just tired?

When they feel happy in their belly, does their belly feel warm or jumpy or cold or…?

By asking many, many questions, kids develop a more rich understanding of the complexity of their emotions.

Finally, get their take on something:

Ask them why your two pictures are different. They’re not exactly the same. What does that mean?

My take: Everyone feels angry, mad, happy, sad, etc… but not everyone experiences those emotions in the same way. We’re all a little bit different, which is awesome! This also means that something that makes you feel angry doesn’t necessarily make everyone else angry.

So when you start to notice your body clues, be aware that other people might be experiencing a different clue.

As a parent, you can start to notice these body clues in your kid as well. When they start to notice they’re a little mad in their body or their brain, help them to calm down. It’s going to be SO HELPFUL. You’ve got this!

Curious to hear more about child anxiety counseling? Kelsey Torgerson specializes in anxiety and anger management for pre-schoolers, elementary schoolers, middle schoolers, teens, and college students. She provides cognitive behavioral therapy through her Clayton office. Families come from University City, Ladue, Creve Couer, Town and Country, Brentwood, and surrounding St. Louis areas. Reach out via or 314-339-7640.