Managing Big Feelings

Introduce students to three simple exercises to safely manage big emotions.
Ages 5-7 / 15
min Activity
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  • Reflect on big emotions and when they feel mad, sad, excited, or scared
  • Learn three simple exercises that can be used throughout the day to manage big emotions and keep themselves safe

Supporting Research

Researchers have found that children with the ability to self-regulate, and manage their behavior, thoughts, actions and emotions, tend to have more successful social and academic outcomes. This activity aims to equip students with strategies to self-regulate and practice self-care to soothe themselves when they are experiencing strong emotions.  

To learn more about this skill, and how it promotes students’ healthy growth and the development of empathy, please check out our Empathy Framework.


Activity Partners


  1. Find a large, empty space and ask students to sit down in a circle. Ensure that students have plenty of space around them, so that they can move around freely during this activity. 
  2. Then, introduce students to the “Managing Big Feelings” exercises by explaining: “Everyone has big feelings sometimes - maybe we feel really mad because someone was mean to us, or we feel really excited because it’s a special day at school! What makes you feel mad, sad, excited, or scared?”

    Invite a few students to share their responses, then continue: “When we have these big feelings, we can use some simple exercises to feel better. Should we learn them together?” 
  3. Model and practice the following strategies together: 

    Lion’s Breath

    Taking Lion Breaths can help keep our body safe when we have big feelings. Start by kneeling on the floor, and place your “lion’s paws” on your legs. Take a deep breath in…and then breathe out with a big “BAH!”. Do this 2-3 more times, then notice how you feel. Take more Lion’s Breaths if you need to. 


    When big feelings make us want to run away, yell, or hit, Eagle can help keep our hands and feet safe. Start by sitting or standing, and then cross your arms and give yourself a hug (you can cross your legs too). Give yourself a big squeeze to remember that you are safe, and take some deep, slow breaths. When you’re ready, uncross your arms and legs, and try crossing them the opposite way. Give yourself another hug, and take some more slow, deep breaths. Quietly, say or think to yourself: “I am safe.” Notice how you feel. 


    When we have big feelings, Butterfly can help us rest. Sit on the floor, and put the soles of your feet together. You can give your butterfly a second set of wings by putting your hands on your shoulders. Take some deep, slow breaths and imagine yourself as a butterfly - what do you look like? What color are you? Where are you flying? Continue to breathe slowly and rest, then notice how you feel. 
  4. Afterwards, ask students if any of these exercises felt helpful to them, and when they might consider using it (e.g., when they feel mad). 

    Remind them that they can use these exercises when they have big feelings, and distribute a copy of the "Managing Big Feelings" cards to each student as a reference for the future.

If students in both classes have individual devices (e.g., mobile phone, tablet, laptop, etc.)...

Use a platform such as Google Meet, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams which allows you to screen-share during a video call. 
One educator should set up the Kahoot! game and share the code with students in both classes by following this tutorial about using Kahoot! in a remote learning environment, and share their screen so everyone can follow along.

If students in either class don’t have individual devices...

Follow the same instructions above, with one educator starting the game and sharing their screen so both classes can follow along.  
Instead of students joining the game to answer the questions, they can hold up their fingers, call out their answer, or use a paper template to indicate their response.

If you prefer not using Kahoot!...

Use this document (Spanish version) to prompt students.