Using A Feelings Wheel to Name and Understand Emotions

Feelings Wheel - Color

Children dealing with loss and trauma are generally dealing with emotions they have never felt before. Alternatively, they are dealing with an intensity of emotions they have never felt before. Either way, they are ill-equipped to deal with those emotions. Your job is to find tools and methods to help them process through those emotions. A feelings wheel is a valuable tool.

The first step in helping any child deal with difficult emotions (regardless of the source of those emotions) will be to help them recognize and name the emotions they are feeling. Feelings wheels are a simple and effective tool to increase a child’s “emotion vocabulary,” and many options are available online. These tools are all useful for kids who have been through some sort of traumatic life event. They are also useful for giving any child a more robust emotional vocabulary. Teaching kids about emotions prior to trauma and pain is an important preventative measure in dealing with the hurts they will experience as they move through childhood and into adulthood. Much of what we learn about emotions is based on our own life experiences. Kids do not have those experiences, as a general rule, in order to be able to understand the emotions they are feeling.

Feelings wheels can be used in a number of way:

  1. To help kids experiencing new or unfamiliar emotions to try to find a name for that emotion.
  2. To prepare kids ahead of time by exploring different types of emotions.
  3. As a “cheat sheet” for emotion vocabulary building games like “emotions charades” or “mirroring emotions.” (Both of these will be addressed in more detail in later posts).
  4. To help adults who are not as comfortable with a range of emotions by providing them with a vocabulary for helping kids.

At Hope 4 Hurting Kids, we do not believe in recreating the wheel (pun intended). Many of the resources we share here, and in future posts, were found on the internet. We have tried to give credit (and provide a link) to the original resource where we were able to track it down. We are grateful for those who have taken the time to develop these resources and make them available to those of us who work with kids.


Feelings Wheel - ColorThe feeling wheel pictured above was found on the Uncompromising blog from Sandy Sandmeyer. It was developed by Dr. Gloria Wilcox who is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in St Petersburg, Florida. You can use a feelings wheel like this one to discover and talk about the nuance to different forms of emotions. Alternatively, you can use it to discover the potential root cause of emotions you might be seeing in a child. For example, suppose you working with a child who you would describe as discouraged or feeling insignificant. In looking at the wheel, you would note that these emotions are linked to feelings of rejection and helplessness respectively. Both are subsets of feelings of sadness which can guide you in how to minister to that child.


Feelings Wheel - Black and WhiteThis emotion wheel was originally featured on our Hope 4 Hurting Kids General Emotions Pinterest Board. This wheel starts on the inside with some more common and known emotions and works out from there. As you move outward, the feelings wheel shows slightly different nuanced or levels of expression of the inner emotion. For example, if a child tells you they are afraid, you can work out from the center of the wheel and discuss where that fear comes from. Is it born out of rejection, humiliation, insecurity or something else? From there you can dig even deeper. If the fear comes from rejection, is it based on the child feeling alienated or rejected? The whole process of working outward from the center will help the child to process the emotions they are feeling. We found this feelings wheel originally at

You can finds lots of other Feeling Wheels simply by googling them, but we would encourage you to find one that you like and use it to talk to the kids in your life about the emotions they are feeling.

For more awesome resources for learning about and dealing with emotions, please visit our Hope 4 Hurting Kids Emotions Help Center.

This article updated and adapted from an article originally published on Divorce Ministry 4 Kids on November 11, 2014.

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Written by Wayne Stocks
Wayne is the founder and executive director of Hope 4 Hurting Kids. He is a happily married father of four kids with a passion for helping young people who are going through rough times. In addition to Hope 4 Hurting Kids, Wayne previously started I Am A Child of Divorce and Divorce Ministry 4 Kids to help kids who are dealing with the disruption of their parents' relationship. These are now part of Hope 4 Hurting Kids. Wayne speaks frequently at conferences and churches on issues related to helping kids learn to deal with difficult emotions and life in modern families. Wayne lives with his wife, three youngest kids, three dogs and an insane collection of his kids' other pets outside of Columbus, Ohio. In addition to his work with Hope 4 Hurting Kids, Wayne is a partner in a local consulting firm, an avid reader, coaches his son's soccer team and is a proud supporter of Leicester City Football Club (and yes, for those in know, his affinity for the club does predate the 2016 championship). You can reach Wayne at