You can help your child develop in this key area by demonstrating the feelings of a character by showing it in your own face. And as your child gets the swing of it, ask her to do the same for you! This engages children in reading and makes them part of the fun.
For example, you can play up the sad bird in P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother? by using a sad tone of voice, and showing your child your own sad face. (Be sure to convey the excitement he feels when he finds his mother, too!)
When you come across a book with expressive illustrations, stop and point out the feeling you can see on the character’s face, and mimic the expression while you talk about that emotion. This brings the character and the feelings alive for your child.
This technique is definitely the most fun when you’re reading an exciting or happy book. If you’re reading The Little Mermaid, you can ask your child to show you how Ariel must have felt when she could go on land for the first time. Look for a big smile and maybe even a reenactment of the scene!
Younger children love to see pictures of other babies and their range of facial expressions. When you’re reading these simple picture books to your little one, you can point to the picture and say the name of the feeling with emotion. Make the same face yourself, and say the word again—“surprised!” Babies love this play acting, and it really helps them make sense of the complexities of human emotion in the people around them.
The book Baby Einstein: Mimi’s Day includes a mirror on each page so that your child can practice making the faces you are discussing—and see right in the book how that face looks when he makes it! This interactive approach is fun for kids, and engages them easily in learning the concept of emotion.
Your preschooler can take these ideas a step further and express feelings in her own drawings. After reading a particularly emotional book and modeling the matching facial expressions for your child, you can talk about the character’s feelings. Then ask her to draw a picture of how Snow White might have felt when she was with the Seven Dwarfs, for example.
Reading with lots of expression and emotion is a win-win for you and your child. It makes story time interesting, it’s fun for you (once you get the hang of it), and the practice of seeing a character’s feelings expressed on Mom or Dad’s face helps kids understand emotions and the excitement of reading books together. Involve your child in the process, try different approaches, and most of all—have fun!