The following communicative games have been designed so that they can be played by 2 players, or 20 players. For a long time, educators have used many of these games and activities of sorts in classrooms and playgrounds, for fun, for learning, or for both. I have tweaked many of them to make them more educational, and also so they can be prepared and used by parents easily at home. In the games, when I say “the players”, it could mean the entire class of children if you are a teacher, or just you and your 1 child, or your 7 children, doing the activity at home. Or it could be 2 children and, say, their 2 grandparents playing the game together after dinner! But remember, you are the facilitator here; in other words, do as much or as little preparation as you want. So, here we go…
Understanding Feelings and Recognizing Social Cues
We don’t just use oral language to express ourselves, we use a lot of social cues. Social cues are the “signals” we send through our body language and expressions. Some examples can be our facial expressions, our body language, the pitch and tone of our voice, and physical boundaries, like personal space. Some children are unable to accurately read the social cues of others, and this is often a problem of the brain not processing the information sent by those social cues properly. There could hence be a misinterpretation of those cues, which in turn might lead to misunderstanding, and an interruption in communication. Some children that have trouble picking up on these social cues can miss them altogether, and often times they can totally misunderstand other people’s situations, their feelings and their intentions, and respond inappropriately.
- Play Feeling Charades to help your child understand the connection between feelings and facial expressions/body language
This activity called “Feeling Charades”, is designed to help kids understand the connection between feelings and facial expressions and body language, and learn to use different facial expressions, signals, body posture or body language when communicating feelings. These are the non-verbal communication cues which complement our verbal communication. To get this game ready, you will want to make up your own “Feeling Cards”. Make up cards with many different feelings or emotions, or even states of mind, such as these: Happy, Sad, Angry, Excited, Anxious, Funny, Lonely… There are many more important ones that you may want to include, like: Tired, Bored, Pleased, Ecstatic, Furious, Scared, Nervous, Thoughtful, Sarcastic, etc. Choose ones that are the most relevant and useful for your child. And of course, you should also choose your feeling words according to your child’s age and language level. For example, use happy and don’t use ecstatic, use funny and not sarcastic, if your child is only 4. And it would be a great idea to involve your child in the game-production process. Have them go find or cut up some cards, and get them to think of some feeling words. You can help them brainstorm some, then add some more of your own that you think are most relevant for them. You or your child can now write those words on your cards.
To play “Feeling Charades”, you need to put all the cards face-down. Each person takes turns to pick a card and acts out the feeling or the emotion without using any words. This is great for children that may have a hard time reading, or using, facial expressions. You should also encourage your child to use his or her whole body, not only their face, for expressing those emotional states. For example, a child who is trying to convey the meaning of “ecstatic” will not only have a big grin on their face, but they may also want to be showing a “thumbs up”, or even jumping up and down at the same time… To make the game even more fun and more crazy, you can have all the other kids, or adults if it’s just a small family gathering after dinner – have all the players make the same face and imitate the same body posture or body language, before guessing the emotion or the feeling. For more artsy kids, you can also have them add a drawing of the different faces or body postures on the cards after the initial activity… Now… you are using pencil and paper to wrap it all up and to record what has been learned! Once again be flexible. Be creative. And encourage your child to be creative as well!
- Make some Feeling Cards and use them to help your child express their feelings each and every day
How about when a child finds it difficult to verbalize his or her own emotions? Or if they are often reluctant to use words to describe how they feel? Instead of asking what they are feeling and getting very little response, or asking “Are you OK?” and getting “I don’t know” or “I guess so” or “kind of”…, you can start making “Feeling Cards” for them, or with them. For older kids, you can again brainstorm as many feeling words as you can with them, and teach them a few more. Have them write all the feeling words down on cards. They can illustrate with pictures of faces and even body postures if they would like to. And for younger kids, you can brainstorm some simpler ones and add a few that you want to teach them, and have them draw pictures of different faces that represent the words that you wrote for them on the cards. These cards need to be hung up or placed somewhere where you child can reach. Or alternatively, you can glue or tape popsicle sticks on the back of the cards, and stand them up in a “Feeling Cup”. Whenever you feel there is a need to check their emotion temperature, ask them to pick a card, or a popsicle stick from the “Feeling Cup”, to show you how they are really feeling, if they are really OK, or if they need a hug, etc. Make this daily activity into a half-game to lighten things up. This can then lead you into a deeper and better, and often much needed, conversation without the initial struggle of “Come on now, just tell me how you’re feeling…” kind of thing.
- Play “What To Do?” to help your child learn to read Social Cues
Playing this game called “What To Do?” can help your child learn to read other people’s social cues in different situations, in order to interpret those cues accurately and respond appropriately. To get this game ready, you will need to make some “Social Cue Situation Cards”. Write one “social cue situation” on each “Situation Card”, and give each card a number.
One example of such a situation would be, say:
You spot your favorite teacher from last year speaking sternly to another child on the playground. You are overjoyed to see this teacher at recess, and you want to run full speed over there to give her a big hug! But she seems to be avoiding your eye contact, and keeps talking to that other child…
Now, write some questions for discussion on this situation on a different “Question Card” with a matching number to go with this particular “Situation Card”, such as:
How should you interpret this situation? And what should your response be? Is your favorite teacher unhappy to see you? Or is there another reason she does not want to talk to you right now? Should you keep running towards her and give her that big hug right now? Or should you wait a little while to see if she will have time for you after she finishes with the other child? This may seem obvious to many of us that the teacher is needing some time to talk to the other child. She is probably not unhappy with your child, but is avoiding eye contact in order to buy herself some time to help her other student at hand. She will probably be very happy to give your child a hug after she finishes with this other student. Yet it may not be so straightforward to a child who has difficulty interpreting body language or other social cues. However, the good news is, interpreting social cues can be taught and learned. And going through these situation cards can open your child up to some of these situations, and allow him or her to spend time and energy thinking about these social cues, as well as possible appropriate or inappropriate responses, ahead of time. So when you are making up these situation cards and question cards, remember to consider the age of your child, and make up situations and questions for their age level and according to their projected everyday experience.
To play “What To Do?”, simply put all your “Social Cue Situation Cards” face down, or in a “Mystery Bag”. Put all the “Question Cards” also face down in a pile. But don’t put these in your Mystery Bag. Have one child turn over, or pull out, one “Situation Card” at a time, and read out the situation. For younger children, the child will pick a card, and you can read out the situation for the child. You or the child will then find the “Question Card” with the matching number, and read out the questions. The child will now attempt to tell how they would respond in that situation, and why. The other players will decide if that is a reasonable response, and why or why not. A small discussion can then follow, and you may now need the help of your “Magic Speaking Wand” to help direct the traffic of your conversations… When everyone is satisfied with the discussion on this “Situation Card”, another child will pick a different “Situation Card” from your “Mystery bag” and locate the matching “Question Card”, read out the situation and the questions, and have a go at it, and then have a discussion, and so on.