How you’re feeling on the inside can have a huge impact on how you’re parenting on the outside. Perhaps you’ve reacted to your children in a way that was too harsh, or you didn’t tune in to your child’s feelings when you should have. It’s easy to recognize these instances in retrospect, but how do you raise your awareness in the moment?

Research confirms that our feelings have a huge influence on our decision making, and yet often in the moment, we aren’t really aware of how we’re feeling or how those feelings are influencing our behaviors.

The Mood Meter is designed to help us learn to recognize emotions, in ourselves and others, with increasing subtlety and to develop strategies for regulating (or managing) those emotions. It provides us with a “language” to talk about our feelings.

How it works:

The Mood Meter is a square divided into four quadrants — red, blue, green, and yellow — each representing a different set of feelings. Different feelings are grouped together on the Mood Meter based on their pleasantness and energy level. (You can download an interactive MoodMeter app here for 99 cents , or print an old-fashioned PDF here.)

▪ RED feelings: high in energy and low in pleasantness (e.g., angry, scared, and anxious);
▪ BLUE feelings: low in energy and low in pleasantness (e.g., sad, disappointed, and lonely);
▪ GREEN feelings: low in energy and high in pleasantness (e.g., calm, tranquil, and relaxed);
▪ YELLOW feelings: high in energy and high in pleasantness (e.g., happy, excited, and curious).

To use the tool, encourage family members to plot their feelings several times throughout the day or week. You can use the colors of the Mood Meter to discuss your feelings or inquire about your child’s feelings. For example, you could say: “It seems you’re in the red and you want to feel more green, is there something I can do to help?”

Once you’ve gotten used to identifying feelings with your child using the four colors, try attaching a specific word to the feeling. For example, if your child is in the blue and feeling sad — ask your child if there’s another word that better describes how she feels. Is she lonely, disappointed, or melancholy? Say what you see, as you notice how your child is expressing his or her feelings. “You’re stomping your feet. You must be angry.” Then, talk to your child about strategies for shifting away from this feeling. “If you’re lonely, what can we do to help you feel less lonely and more connected?”

Like anything worthwhile, developing emotional self-awareness takes practice. Over time, the Mood Meter can become an intuitive, powerful tool for families to feel heard and understood, a precursor to deepening emotional self-awareness and building better relationships.

This is part of a series about tools used in the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence’s RULER program (@emotionallyintelligentschools). RULER is a research-based program used by schools to develop emotional intelligence skills in all educators, staff, students, and their families. The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence uses the power of emotions to create a more effective and compassionate society. Check out the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence’s other tools.

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Updated: August 5, 2019