Three Ways to Support Emotional Awareness for Children with Cancer

Research shows that emotional awareness, or the ability to notice and name one's emotions, can help protect against mental health concerns like anxiety and depression. While these benefits have not been specifically studied among children with cancer, it is critical to give these youth age-appropriate guidance with processing such a harrowing experience. Here are three ideas for children of all ages:
1. Draw it Out
Many children are familiar with feelings charts that display expressions of happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, and other common emotions. However, these words do not fully capture the depth of a child's difficulties when going through cancer. Put simply, there's a big difference between "sad" and "miserable." It's hard to accept any child feeling the latter, but it's important to be precise. Children can make their own feelings chart, choosing words and drawings that express their true emotions. 
2. Make it a Game
One tool that can help children learn new words for emotions is the Mood Meter, created by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. It's a matrix that splits emotions into red, yellow, green, and blue based on how pleasant and energetic they feel. Pair the Mood Meter with a board game that uses those same four colors (Candyland, Sorry!, and Trouble are all good options). Each time a player lands on one of the four colors, they can choose an emotion word from the corresponding group. This game can be used to promote reflection (e.g., "I felt disheartened when...") or to explore unfamiliar emotion words.
3. Keep Track of Them
Tracking emotions over time can help kids and teens notice patterns in their mood. There are a number of smartphone apps that have built-in mood trackers, like Daylio and How We Feel. Emotion tracking apps use daily reminders to prompt users to notice how they are feeling, and they also offer ideas for coping strategies. When going through major stressful events, it is common to suppress or avoid emotions until they are overwhelming. Using mood trackers can help children develop a practice of emotional awareness.

All content on Cancer Cushion is provided for informational purposes only. Individuals experiencing a mental health emergency should contact their local crisis line or dial 988.

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