As a dance/movement therapist and play therapist I have found children can successfully learn body language skills as well as facial expressions. One of the techniques I use to teach this skill is to play the Feeling Charade game. I use a product called My Ups and Downs cards printed by Western Psychological Services which has 34 different emotions. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money you can make your own feeling cards by cutting out pictures of both children and adults showing clear feelings on their faces and bodies and print the feeling on the bottom of the card. Then laminate them so they stay sturdy for a long time.
To play the game you place the feelings face down and have the child pick one and stand up and act out that feeling in front of you. Try and guess the feeling. Then you take a turn and act out the feeling. I suggest that you start with the simple feelings of happy, sad, mad/angry, afraid, brave, excited, and calm. As your child becomes more comfortable identifying and acting out the feelings add more difficult feelings into your game. Be sure to encourage your child to utilize their entire body when acting out the feeling and not just your face. When the child begins to play the game well you can ask your child when they have that feeling. If they have difficulty doing this you can model for them by giving them examples when you have the feeling. For example, show the feeling of happy, have your child guess it, and then state: I feel happy when I eat ice cream. Everyone in the family can join in and have a good time.
To further generalize understanding facial expressions at home comment to your child when look happy or sad or mad. For example, Steven, you look like you are feeling happy, is that right? You can further generalize this skill to outside the home. In an unobtrusive way when you are out at the grocery store, mall, or restaurant point out another person in the store and ask your child how they think that person is feeling from the way their body language looks. Discuss why the person’s posture, facial expressions, and gestures express that feeling. Playing the Feeling Charade game at least four times per week can help your child integrate this skill into their daily life.
Western Psychological Services: 12031 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025, 1-800-648-8857, www.wpspublish.com ($39.50)
For further questions you can e-mail Sheila Gilstein at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact her at Monmouth Therapy Associates, 1 Executive Dr., Tinton Falls, NJ 07701, (732) 946-3330