Outside In

outside in

The new Pixar movie, Inside Out, does a fantastic job exploring the inner emotional world of an eleven year old girl.  I knew from the first rumblings of this movie, it would be a social language gold mine!  But what about understanding emotions from the outside in?  For several of my boys that I see, sometimes their outward expressions don’t match their internal emotions, or they don’t give enough clues for the people around them to accurately figure out how they are feeling .

The kids I work with are not all on the spectrum, but all do have language disorders and/or sensory issues.  My social emotional goals for three boys (ages 4-15), have been focused on the language of emotion, far beyond happy and sad.  Per parent report and from my own observations in therapy, sometimes they become overwhelmed, anxious, frustrated, tired and yes, even sad, and shut down.  Head down, arms covering their face, no language.  Sometimes I know the antecedent of the behavior, but a lot of times I don’t.  If I can help them access the language of their feelings, and practice using them outside of these moments, then they have a strategy to pull themselves back together.

funny faces

This week, I picked up the Game “Funny Faces” at a thrift shop (score!) but I don’t follow the instructions to just imitate the facial expressions on the cards.  Instead, we have been labeling emotions and figuring out clues in people’s faces (eyebrows are a biggie!) that tell us how they might be feeling. Speaking of eyebrows, dry erase markers work well on Mr. Potato Head to add angry eyebrows…

Don't make me use my angry eyes!

Angry eyes!

and scared eyebrows…

Summer is half over, I'm scared!!

Summer is half over, I’m scared!!

We also practice matching our expressions to feelings, and use both a mirror and an iPhone camera for feedback.  As you can see, I can scaffold a LOT of social language using this game!

For my little guy who loves books, Karma Wilson’s ‘Bear’ books and Eric Litwin’s ‘Pete the Cat’ series are wonderful resources to work on what a character might be feeling in the story.  I use thought bubble, speech bubble, and heart shaped post -its to encourage my boys to think about what other people might be thinking, saying and feeling. These books also reinforce the idea of perspective and how our words and feelings affect others. I really like Cynthia Rylant’s ‘Henry and Mudge’ series as a resource for early elementary age students to work on social emotional language too.

What other ways do you work on identifying emotions from the outside In?  Share here!

3 thoughts on “Outside In

  1. Hey. Heidi love your post as always. Wanted to highlight a program strategy “The 5 Point Scale” used as a first step to have the student point to their emotional state with a defined strategy for each emotional state either to stay where they are or to use th strategy listed to come down. At first this would be facilitated with the student by the SLP / teachers / and parents at home. Then the student becomes more of an independent user of their scale to communicate their emotional state. The final goal outcome is for the student to communicate their emotional state using language effectively without needing the visual. I have seen great progress with my students when students are generalizing the skill with the scale at school in therapy, in the classroom, and at home. I loved your recent post on use of “tickets” for positive rewards as I see my students needing “buy $ in” in order to use skills they have learned — as in “what’s in it 4 me?, suZanne / MPE

    • Thank you Suzanne! I absolutely agree, the 5 point scale is an AMAZING tool! The best thing we can do for our kids is to teach enough strategies that they don’t need us next to them to demonstrate the skills 🙂

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