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Creating an emotions basket for preschoolers

Toddlers and preschoolers have BIG emotions. When they experience Joy it is over-the-top smiles and giggles for days! Fear makes them cover their eyes and crawl into your arms for comfort. Sadness draws out big round tears and the cutest little puffy eyes.  And Anger…well…Anger causes balled up fists and an extra loud voice! I want my kids to know that it is ok to experience each of these emotions, but I also want them to learn healthy and appropriate ways of discussing these strong feelings with the people around them. Part of that task means giving them the vocabulary to express how they feel (which can be tough, if not impossible, to teach in a big emotional moment)! When I heard about the Disney movie Inside Out, I knew it would be a great opportunity to foster emotional intelligence in my boys.
I started by heading to Toy “R” Us to pick up some of the Inside Out merchandise (since we are frequent Toys “R” Us shoppers, we made sure to have our Toys “R” Us Rewards Card handy for the purchase!)

Toys R Us Inside Out merchandise
The toys were super easy to find in the movie merchandise aisle!

Using Inside Out plush toys for emotional education

We chose to take home the plush toys since they would be safe for toddlers and preschoolers (no small parts to worry about). I kept the toys in a basket at our preschool table where the boys would have easy access to it throughout the day.

I started by letting the boys first explore their new toys. We talked about facial expressions and colors while we played with them a bit. Then I introduced their proper names: Joy, Anger, Fear, and Sadness. Emotions can really be an abstract concept to teach children, and having toys that personify each emotion helps make the learning more concrete. 
Just a few minutes after being introduced to the emotions, my youngest son came crying to me because his brother took a toy from him. He was upset and just fell into my arms, he couldn’t even tell me what happened! It was the perfect chance to take both of them to the emotions basket and show them that Hunter was feeling Sad. I talked to Cannon (my oldest) about how taking toys out of his brother’s hand makes him feel. Cannon said sorry, and Hunter sat of the sofa and cuddled his toy for a while until he regained his composure. It was a great way to diffuse the situation, teach my older son empathy, and encouraged them to use emotional vocabulary to express their feelings.
Discussing emotions with Inside Out toys

When using the Emotions Basket, it’s important that we keep it within easy reach and refer to it regularly. We like to let the characters “watch” our activities while we have conversations about what we’re doing. Another great way to encourage emotional vocabulary is by role-playing high intensity situations to practice how to handle those big emotions before they even start!

How do you teach emotional intelligence to your munchkins? How will these toys help you accomplish the big task? Let us know in the comments below!

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