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feelings check in

Using Feelings Check-Ins to Encourage Social-Emotional Learning

Using Feelings Check-Ins to Encourage Social-Emotional Learning

Key Takeaways:

  • Acknowledging kids’ emotions has positive effects on their mental health.
  • Feelings check-ins can be used anytime and anywhere.
  • Worksheets and various group activities are opportunities that allow kids to get their feelings out safely.

If there’s one thing we want for kids, it’s that they grow up mentally healthy.

Some people might think that feelings are a burden, but feelings are actually helpful as you’ll learn in this article. Teachers, parents, and mental health professionals working with children could benefit from using a feelings check-in as a way of normalizing talking about feelings.

What are Feelings Check-Ins?

A feelings or emotion check-in is when you block out time to assess how a child is doing emotionally. In educational settings, teachers can apply it at the start of each class. Therapists and counselors use it to explore a child’s problems. For parents who are concerned about their kids not opening up, this can be a great conversation starter.

Tools such as a feelings check-in chart and feelings thermometer are just some of the many ways to figure out what kids may be going through without seeming intimidating. Teachers who want to integrate social emotional learning (SEL) in the classroom may take advantage of these tools to support their students’ personal and academic success[*].

Why Are Feelings Check-Ins Important?

Research shows that expressing one’s true feelings and emotions is important for overall health and well-being. It leads to greater emotional stability (in other words, being even-tempered in the midst of challenges) and allows kids to understand themselves and others better[*][*].

Here’s a look at some of the benefits of a feelings or an SEL check-in:

Increased self-awareness

Children who are self-aware understand their strengths and limitations. They know the things, people, and other stimuli that stir up their emotions.

For example, Henry, an elementary student, is being self-aware by realizing that he’s angry at a classmate who refused to share his toy. Henry knows it because he feels hot, sweaty, and his heart is racing.

Talking about their feelings is one way to help them develop self-awareness. In fact, self-awareness is first of the five core SEL competencies.

Self-regulation and conflict resolution

No matter how we try to avoid them, disagreements happen among children. Big emotions, such as anger, fear, embarrassment, and sadness can be difficult to handle.

Parents and teachers play a role in helping kids recognize these emotions, which enables them to think before they act. This prevents explosive behaviors and anger issues. Once they develop emotional awareness, you can brainstorm coping skills to help them calm down during stressful moments.

Social empathy

Social empathy means that you understand what others may be thinking or feeling, and you see things from their point of view. In other words, walking a mile in someone else’s shoes[*].

Encouraging empathy in kids through a daily feelings check-in helps them avoid wrong behaviors, such as bullying, defiance, and cheating. They get to build healthy relationships with those around them — their peers, family members, and teachers.

Feelings Check-In Ideas and Activities

Let’s look at some of the ways to do a feelings check-in at home, in the classroom, or during individual/group therapy sessions. These ideas appeal to kids who may be extroverts or introverts.

Note that introverted kids, in particular, should be allowed to interact and speak up in a way that feels comfortable to them. You can help them do this creatively through writing using the first feelings check-in tip mentioned below.

1. Feelings tracking worksheet

This is a fillable worksheet that kids can write on to communicate how they’re feeling at any time of the day. If you have a child or student who struggles to talk and would rather keep their feelings hidden — unless they put them in writing — a feelings tracking worksheet would be great.

At Mental Health Center Kids, we provide 3 types of worksheets for this purpose. You can download and print them or send them as fillable PDF files for distance learning:

  • Feelings Check-In Worksheet - This worksheet starts by asking a child to identify their specific feeling and where they feel it in their body. It also asks them to share the thoughts running through their head. If they’re having a bad day, they can choose from any of the coping skills at the bottom of the worksheet.
  • Daily Feelings Check-In Worksheet - Use this worksheet if you’re tracking a child’s experiences on a daily basis. It doesn’t just ask how they’re currently feeling, but also how they feel about certain areas of their lives — home, school, and friendships.
  • Emotions Check-In Worksheet - This is a wonderful tool for therapists since it uses the CBT triangle. By answering this worksheet, a child can build the connection between a thought, feeling, and action.

2. Mental health check-in board

This may be a group activity, but your students don’t have to disclose their names to their classmates. You will need to hang a blank chart or bulletin board on the wall. You’re going to label this board a “Mental Health Check-In Board” or something similar. Divide the board into rows or columns with different feeling names: happy, sad, angry, struggling, etc.

Follow these tips:

  • Give each of your students a blank post-it note.
  • Instruct them to write their name at the back of the note.
  • Let them post the note on the row or column that corresponds to how they’re feeling.
  • Students are not allowed to check the back of the notes to avoid seeing the names of their classmates. Only you should check their names and reach out to those who need special attention.

3. Feeling masks art activity

This is a group activity that allows children to learn from each other while bringing out their creative side. The point of this activity is to explain that sometimes, what we show on the outside doesn’t always reflect our true emotions inside.

Prepare the materials needed to create the feeling masks, such as paper plates, yarns, acrylic paint colors, paint brushes, buttons, and glue. You can show the group some pre-made masks to get them inspired!

Follow these tips:

  • Have them decorate the outside of the mask in a way that portrays the feeling that they often show others.
  • After completing the outside of the mask, ask them to decorate the inside of the mask to show the true feeling that they’re covering up.
  • When everyone is done, spend time discussing and reflecting on the feelings portrayed by each mask.

4. Emotion emoji cards

Emojis are popular. They enable kids to communicate how they feel without having to use specific words or phrases. For this activity, all you need to do is print different emojis. Make sure that each emoji is big enough for the entire group or class to see. Laminate the emoji cards so you can re-use them.

Here are the steps to follow:

  • Before each class starts, pull out an emoji card. Start with something that makes them laugh or smile — for example, a “being in love” emoji or “grinning face” emoji.
  • Ask them to name the feeling that they think best represents the emoji. There are no wrong answers!
  • Use this activity as a starting point to discuss feelings.

5. Daily questions

Use this method to gain some insight into how they’re doing and to get to know them better. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing online or classroom-based education. You can even rotate your set of questions. Here are some examples:

  • What’s your strongest emotion today?
  • What caused this emotion?
  • What’s the easiest/hardest part of the day for you?
  • Is there something on your mind that you would like to discuss privately with a trusted friend/adult?
  • When do you feel calm or most relaxed?
  • Did you reach any goals today?
  • What’s something you did well today?


A feelings check-in helps us to realize that our feelings serve a purpose. Not only does it make children feel heard, but it also promotes self-awareness, self-regulation, and social empathy. With all these benefits, kids are able to meet their needs and have positive relationships with others.


  1. Kim D, Lim J, An J. The quality and effectiveness of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) intervention studies in Korea: A meta-analysis. 2022 June 24
  2. Patel J, Patel P. Consequences of Repression of Emotion: Physical Health, Mental Health and General Well Being
  3. ScienceDirect. Emotional Stability
  4. Americal Psychological Association. Empathy
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