Recognising facial expressions is crucial for the success of social interactions. We express emotions through our face as a way to communicate. It is is important for kids to understand how to express their feelings and read others through facial expressions.
If a child is upset or sad, they need to be clear about how they feeling so they are able to get help. Similarly, the empathetic response of others helps us know who will help us. If someone mimics your facial expressions, then they are showing that they understand how you feel.
When teaching children about how to read facial expressions, I always focus on the EYES, EYEBROWS and MOUTH. The combination of these three areas will reaveal every facial expression.
Draw the shape of a face and make the EYES, EYEBROWS and MOUTH with Play dough. Happy is always the easiest to start with. The eyebrows and up but not too far up, and the mouth is a smile. Remember to also connection with how their body feels when they are happy.
Show how you can change the feeling by simply change where the eyebrows and mouth (eyes are a bit hard to change with play dough). When sad the eyebrows go down at the sides and the mouth is down at the corners. Discuss how their head may hang low, they may not look at people and their body may feel heavy.
Children are usually amazing that you can change a sad face to an angry face by simply changing the eyebrows. Just by making them go in towards the nose changes the whole emotion. Again connect with how the heart will race, their muscles feel tight and strong.
Scared, worried and surprised are often confused. However you can show how when we are scared, the eyebrows are high and the mouth can be like a sad mouth.
Worried has the same shape eyebrows as sad but higher up.
Surprised has high eyebrows and not usually a sad mouth but often an apen mouth or happy. How the body feels for scared worried and surprised are very different too. Be sure to point out the differences. Talk about different situations that they have felt these.
You can also talk about what what they could do if they see someone with these facial expressions. What could that person be thinking? This helps build empathy and theory of mind.
Have fun with this activity. Let the child explore how slight changes in EYES, EYEBROWS and MOUTH will change what emotion we convey.