Fun ways to teach kids to read facial expressions

The way we read facial expressions forms a big part of our social know-how and how we handle situations. There is research that indicates that children who have difficulty telling emotions from facial expressions may experience greater issues with peers or learning difficulties, whereas kids who can read faces well may be more popular in school.

Children who understand their feelings and learn about their emotions at a young age have many advantages such as:

  • They connect with other children easily and form strong friendships with them
  • They have the capacity to calm themselves down more quickly when they get upset
  • They excel in their studies at school
  • They get sick less often

The good news is that reading facial expressions isn’t just an ingrained skill and children can learn it, and parents can help. One report states that a study that provided typically-developing elementary school students with training on how to recognize and self-produce facial cues found that the kids’ ability to gauge emotions improved just after a six half-hour sessions, when compared with a control group.

One method that works well when starting out is the use of flash cards. These are individual cards or pieces of paper showing people making different expressions. You could either find photographs in magazines or on the Internet, or make your own by getting someone to pose with facial expressions corresponding to different emotions.

The cards should have expressions of happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust and surprise. Additionally, you could also have expression cards for more nuanced feelings such as boredom or pride. Getting more than one person’s face to represent an emotion can be even more helpful.

Test the cards out on a few adults first to ensure that the expressions are easy to identify correctly and to avoid confusing your child.

In addition to flash cards, you could also give a live demonstration yourself or with the help of another person. As you talk about different types of emotion, making the corresponding face. You can make it a fun game by having your child guess what emotion you are indicating. Turnabout is also fair play, your child could make faces for you to guess at.

The key is to make sure your child thoroughly understands each emotion and accompanying facial expression and only move on once she or he is confident about it. Children learn by repetition, so you may need to go over each emotion again and again. Then, as you introduce your child to new emotions and expressions, compare the new one to those already covered. Look for examples of each new emotion in videos and stories, act it out in short role-plays, find examples of it in magazines and incorporate it into games and art activities for your child to have a better understanding.

Based on the research, as children learn to read facial expressions, their social understanding and communication skills will also develop further.

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