Emotions are a huge part of preschool life. Kids at this age feel gigantic happiness, enormous sorry, extreme anger, and overwhelming joy. Thier feelings are big and real. Helping your child recognize and manage them is a family affair. Creating a self-portrait book is a great way to spend time with your developing child, put your school portraits to a great archival use, help them articulate a positive vision of themselves, and facilitate healthy emotional awareness.
Using your child’s school portrait as a model, encourage them to draw a self-portrait. Many children find it easier to “copy” a photograph than draw from memory or from a mirror. Avoid directing them, instead, encourage them and reflect their actions. Be as specific as you can. Your child will appreciate your engagement. “Kiddo, you did an amazing job with drawing your beautiful brown eyes!” You may find it useful to work on a self-portrait of your own, but keep your artistic efforts at their level. It’s not a competition and there’s no need to show them up.
Next, brainstorm a few adjectives and descriptive phrases with your child. Think about things that describe his or her looks, passions, interests, age, hobbies, and personality. As an example, your child’s list might include the following: “smart, swimmer, ocean-lover, cat-lover, cook, brown hair, rosebud lips, button nose, funny, silly, goofy, serious, shy, artist, reader.” Try to encourage them to come up with as many descriptions of their own as possible. It may be tough at times, but it’s important to remember it’s their project, not yours.
Now it’s time for the emotional stuff. Make a list of the following emotions: fear, anger, happiness, and sadness. Feel free to customize your list to reflect your child’s unique emotional responses. Happy, joyful, sad, mad, frustrated, scared, and excited also work well for many children. Here’s where those acting skills come in handy! Using a hand mirror or cell phone, whichever works best for your child, ask them to draw a picture of themselves expressing each emotion. You can mirror their actions using your own expressions to build out your own emotional self portrait, too.
Older children may even be able to take it to the next level, and add “I” statements to each of their emotional renderings, “I feel mad when I don’t get what I want,” or “I feel happy when I play games with Mommy and Daddy.”
This can be a big, fun, multi-day project that makes your home a safe space for your child to talk to you and process their emotions. Collaborating on a self-portrait book helps your developing child identify emotions, helps them develop self-confidence, and the builds the language they need to positively express themselves. Consider making an emotional self-portrait book each year with your child, documenting their physical and emotional development throughout the years.
You’ll be surprised how much they change and how much stays the same!