How to help your child learn to read facial expressions

Does your child not notice or understand when people look angry, surprised, or even happy? Some kids need extra help learning to read facial expressions. Here are some strategies you can try to help them learn to better read and interpret these important social cues.

Use pictures.

Take or gather photos of people your child knows. Look for a range of facial expressions. Print and make flashcards. You can:

  • Help your child identify the feeling that goes with the expression on the card.

  • Ask why your child thinks it’s the right emotion.

  • Each take a card, mimic the expression, and have the other person guess what it is.

  • Name times you’ve seen someone make that facial expression. (“Jenny made that face when she stepped on a bug in her bare feet.”)

  • Ask your child to find pictures in magazines or on websites of people whose expressions match those in the flashcards.

Analyze facial features.

Show how eyebrows, mouth, eyes, nose, and forehead change with emotion. Practice making expressions like “angry eyes.” Looking in the mirror can help kids see how accurate their expressions are.

Analyze facial movement.

Ask your child to pay attention to what face muscles feel like when feeling happy, sad, angry, etc. Have kids look in the mirror to see each expression. That can help them see it in other people’s faces.

Help kids notice changes.

Point out the “neutral” faces of family members and friends. This can help kids see changes in expression.

Use movies and TV.

Watch with the sound off and work together to identify the facial expressions.

Try out apps.

Let your child play apps that teach emotions and facial expressions. These games are a fun way to practice recognizing facial expressions independently and discreetly.

Teach kids to ask.

Remind your child that it’s OK to say something like “Sometimes I can’t tell if you’re mad. Are you?”

Want more tips to help kids who struggle in social situations? Watch an expert explain how to use TV as a tool to improve social skills. Explore other types of social cues that might be hard for your child. And read about Social Thinking, an instructional strategy that can help kids learn to recognize social cues.


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