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Incorporating Social Emotional Learning into Games

by Kelly Guidry, LPC-S

With school districts rolling out remote learning faster than ever before, we thought it may be helpful to give you some fun ways to also include social emotional learning at home.  One of my favorite ways to do this is through the use of games.  

I’m going to walk through three games that you can use at home and different ways you can talk about social and emotional situations while playing these games.   We are going to specifically focus on ways to increase and bring awareness to feeling identification. Side note – one of the biggest keys to utilizing games (or anything) as a tool for feeling identification is to make sure that you are validating what your child is saying.  This is not a time to “correct” emotions.  

For instance, if a kid is describing that they get scared because monsters are under their bed, you want to respond by saying, “that is pretty scary – can you tell me more about the monsters?” Then proceed to have a conversation about monsters.   You want to avoid dismissing the feeling by saying something like, “well that’s silly monsters don’t exist.”  

Same thing goes for older kids.  Say for instance they are nervous about an upcoming test.  You may want to say to them, “you are going to be fine.” In reality we know they will be fine, but if we don’t acknowledge the feeling first then what we say after falls on deaf ears and feel like they are never heard or understood.  So take these ideas to incorporate into some fun family game nights that create an opportunity for you to be present and have different conversations with your kids. 

  • Candyland – Who knew that 4 little characters and a bunch of candy could be such a great way to explore feeling identification? 

    • One way to start this is for each player to assign a feeling to a color. Thus, if you had 4 people playing then you would have 4 feelings to explore.  E.g. Blue could be sad, yellow could be happy, orange could be nervous, and purple could be calm. Then when a player lands on a particular color they have to tell a story or a time that they experienced that feeling.  There will come a point when kids may stop having ideas or experience they can come up with for each emotion. When this happens you can shift to thinking about situations that may evoke an emotion. For example, “I would be happy if I got to go on a surprise trip to Disneyland because Disney is the most magical place.”
    • Another way to utilize Candyland is to use each of the “special” cards – you know the ice cream cone, the chocolate, the cupcake, the lollipop – etc.  and make these interactive. So anytime someone lands on one of these it is like a game of charades, only feeling charades. The person has to act out a feeling and whoever guesses it right the quickest gets to advance three spaces on the board.  
  • Operation – This classic game is great for focus and attention to detail, but it’s a great way to explore different types of feelings.  

    • Each of the pieces that have to be removed from the guy that is being operated on is labeled and has some type of statement.  For example, the heart card talks about “Sam’s broken heart”. This is a good way to say something like, I wonder what it feels like to have a broken heart….. When have you felt that way?  Or for the butterflies in your stomach….. I get butterflies in my stomach when.  
    • You can also first introduce this by exploring only what they think “Sam” the guy in the operation game is feeling about each of the cards.  This is a metaphorical way for them to start to understand feelings. 
    • Operation is also great for kids to start to gain an awareness of where they have physical experience of feelings.  We often feel our feelings physically before we can verbalize them. Think to yourself the last time that you started to feel angry.  You maybe grit your teeth together, clinched your fists, started breathing faster…. But almost always the physical stuff happens before we are verbalizing what we are feeling.  Pull out different colored post-it notes and each person can mark where they physically experience different emotions. 
  • Uno – another great game to utilize for feeling identification with the color variation and the wild cards. 

    • Assign a feeling to explore for each color.  So anytime the color changes, everyone playing has to share an experience they have had with the associated feeling.  For instance, if the color goes from red to green and green is disgust, then each player would say something like…. “I felt disgusted when….. Because…….” 
    • The specialty cards – the reverse card is great because you can use this to talk about reversing the thought associated with a negative feeling.  For example, if a player has shared an experience about being angry, they can talk about alternative ways they could have handled the situation. “I was angry when mom told me I couldn’t have ice cream and that’s why I slammed my door” could be turned into, “I was angry when mom told me I couldn’t have ice cream and so I could have written down my feelings, told mom that I need a break, gone for a walk, listened to music…..” The skip card can be played that they get to skip offering a feeling experience and ask someone else to share.  The Draw 2 cards can be used to ask someone else a question – any question feeling related or not. And the Wild cards – these again can be used to act out a feeling or situation (whoever doesn’t guess what the feeling is has to draw 4)! 

Remember to do this in little doses. Just like schoolwork, activities like this can get overwhelming and sometimes kids just want to play Uno the way Uno was made to be played, and that is okay.  The best thing is that you can get creative and have fun with these games all the while engaging in meaningful conversations with your kids. You will learn all kinds of things from them, and in return they can learn from you.  

We don’t always share our own feelings with our kids and the reciprocity of doing this through games helps to identify feelings, normalize positive and negative emotions, and above all create quality time that you are spending with your kids.   

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