How to Sort Through Mixed Feelings

Use this “emotion pizza pie” activity to help you or your child untangle mixed feelings.

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Helping Our Kids Identify and Untangle Mixed Feelings

It’s normal to have mixed feelings about day-to-day events in our lives. This is amplified when we’re faced with situations that are complex or confusing. 

Like COVID-19, for instance. Our children have been very much affected by this global pandemic.

Yet, it’s not only during crises that it’s normal to feel mixed feelings. Any kind of complex situation can cause confusing and conflicting feelings. 

And, when emotions get confusing, they tend to be more intense. Young children tend to express their mixed feelings through crying, tantruming, or acting out. 

That’s normal.  Not fun for parents, perhaps.

In order to deal with emotions in a healthy way, we need to be able to express them. Which means to get our feelings out in some way, and to understand them, at least on a basic level.  

And so, when children’s young hearts are churning with emotions, we can help them acknowledge and express their mixed feelings. 

In my art therapy sessions with children, I help them find ways to express their emotions through art. It’s important for kids to let us know how they are feeling, whether it feels good or not.

Because, emotions themselves are not good or bad. 

Some emotions feel good. Some don’t.

Yet, they’re all equally important because our feelings give us information and what’s going on inside of us. 

Processing our emotions is what we do when sort through this information and use it to balance out our feelings. 

As a parent, you can help your child process his complex emotions about any situation with this art therapy tool.

It can help your child differentiate between the mixed emotions that he feels, which are often contradictory and confusing. 

You can print out a pie chart here to use for this activity, or you can make it yourself. You’ll need a pen and paper, that’s it. If you’ve got crayons or markers, that’s even better, because kids love color. 

So do lots of adults! 

Me, included. 

So let’s not be excluded from the fun. If you’re doing this with your child, you can also demonstrate how you have mixed emotions sometimes too.

Kids like to know they are normal, and when their parents go through similar stuff, it’s reassuring. 

So, here’s what you do to start. 

Draw a circle on a piece of paper. Then, draw a line across the diameter of the circle, and then another line perpendicular to it. Add two more lines, effectively slicing your “pizza” into eight “slices.”

Explain to your child that it’s normal to have multiple feelings in complex experiences. Give an example that she can identify with (i.e. “Remember when Sammy was born, you were happy to have a new baby and you were also sad that Mommy stayed overnight in the hospital? Sometimes our feelings about the same event are actually opposites!”) Then ask her to identify what emotions she is feeling about a complex experience in her life.

There might be something going on in the family, or starting a new school year. Some kids get stressed out by social crises with friends. Whatever it is, help him acknowledge his emotions.

Your child can write in his emotions, or you can write it for him. Offer crayons or other art supplies to color in each pizza slice to match the emotion written in it.

Some kids might need help with this, depending on how familiar they are with the names and meanings of various emotions. You can write a list of feelings down and he can choose those that match his experience. 

This activity can be a great way for your child to clarify his feelings.

And, separating each emotion into a different slice of the pizza helps kids recognize their mixed emotions. It can lessen their confusion about how they feel when they are experiencing a life crisis or transition.

Later on, you can remember this activity out loud with your child, which gives him an opportunity to process it all again, in a gentle way. Remembering is good for your child, and doing this integrates his memories in a healthy way.

If your child is still having a really hard time with the situation he’s in, consult with a therapist. Some situations are too big to handle alone. 

If you’d like to read a little more about art tools and how to use them, take a look at these guidelines for art as therapy at home. 

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