Teaching Feeling the Fun Way

Play is a part of children's world. Teaching them about feelings and emotional regulation should fit into that world  to help them understand and use the skills in a natural way.  Whether it is a formal board game or just some creative family fun, the interactions with have with our kids give them opportunities to watch, learn, and practice emotional regulation skills that lead to stronger emotional intelligence. 

 You don't have to spend a lot of money to do this - in fact the biggest expense it time.  If you can carve out even one day during the week to set aside 30-60 minutes for game time it will be something, I guarantee, that your kids will look forward to every week.  Even better, if you make a short conversational game about feelings during a meal each day you can practice naming feelings and talking about strategies everyone uses to manage them!  Try being creative by having each person add a part to a story then retell the whole thing at the end.

It's easy to find  games for older kids but sometimes it can be a bit of a challenge to find games that younger children (preschool and kindergarten) can participate in without losing attention or having meltdowns!  

HERE ARE 5 GAMES you can play with your young children to encourage emotional regulation!


This classic game is a great way to introduce young kids to the idea of managing emotions. The game repeatedly sends the players back to the start then moves them forward throughout the game which demands  flexibility in thinking and frustration tolerance as other players "target" them to return home.  Practicing inhibition of responses and social communkcation is a key skill in this game.  We find that emotions run high when we play this game at home but, it is also a GREAT way to keep modeling and practicing tools we talk about all the time!

Musical Chairs

We have all played it..that game that gives you the butterflies before the music even starts?  This is a game that not only teaches frustration tolerance when you can't get to the chair you want but also patience and managing jealousy when you have to wait for the others to "win".  Empathy and understanding social boundaries is also happening as you need to understand that, even though you may push into someone's physical bubble, you have to use empathic skills to understand that they might be disappointed.


We have found that this game is best played with a mix of ages and with teams divided evenly into younger and older participants. It gives the younger kiddos a chance to watch and learn skills but still participate.  Since Charades is played in teams it is often young children's first opportunities to see teamwork in action in a game format. Most games tend to be competitive in nature and have only one winner. This is a great way for them to practice cooperative problem solving, flexibility in thinking (you can't always have the right answer) and a great way for understanding how to read nonverbal cues from others!


This game is like CLUE but for younger kids. A fox stole a pot pie, and you have to figure out which fox it was before they escape into the foxhole.

It encourages players to work together to solve the problem which requires listening and communicating with each other, Flexibility (listening and trying different  ideas other than your own), and creative planning and problem solving.

Hoot Owl Hoot

In this game, players cooperate to help the owls fly back to their nest before the sun comes up. Help all the owls home before sunrise and everyone wins!

It requires kids to work together to match items so they need to utilize social communication and flexible thinking but still need to be creative in their ideas to  plan and problem solve.

Any of the above mentioned games are great to help reinforce emotional intelligence skills but, in reality, all you really need to do is spend time in creative play with your kids and you will find that they naturally create a lot of these opportunities.  Read, play cards, tell stories together.  Every time you find a way to carve out quality time doing these types of activities you not only are teaching and reinforcing these skills but, you are giving them a clear message that they matter and they are worth your time!  Play on everyone 🙂

Digital Citizenship 101 for Parents

dr Palmiottoblog

Digital Citizenship 101 for Parents

Today our kids are submersed into the digital world and with the Covid-19 pandemic it has thrust many of them into an online world of learngn that some parents may not have been intending.   This presentation was developed as a way to introduce the core component of digital citizenship to parents so that they can make informed decisions about how and when to introduce their child to the digital world outside of learning.

Below you will find the video version of this presentation along with links to the recommended books, resources and curriculums online that were discussed.   

Recommended Books

Online Links to Curriculums and Resources

Waiting is the Hardest Part! Why teaching kids to wait is one of the best gifts you can give them!


You can have that later!

Don't Touch That!!

Wait Just A Minute Please!

                 All of these these are phrases we use with our kids throughout the day EVERY day!  

Sometimes they are effective and sometimes they fall flat but, by consistently following through on teaching kids to STOP and WAIT you are doing something AMAZING to their brains that will create a stronger, more resilient, and (ultimately) happier person as they grow into adolescence and adulthood.  

The skill of stopping and waiting to respond, in order to get something that you want, is one of the many executive functioning skills that we develop as we grow called…Response Inhibition.  Response Inhibition is basically the resist the urge to say or do something when you want to do it.  Most skills in the Executive functioning category of our brain (located in the Frontal Lobes) don’t fully evolve until our late twenties but, Response Inhibition is something that we can see emerging from a rudimentary level, very early (within the first year of life).  This is when babies learn to stop and respond when they reach or stop and look at things.  As they move into the early preschool years and learn language, they begin to use language to reinforce this concept.  When you hear toddlers playing and they play with others using phrases like “no, don’t do that” or practice their “No” language, they are practicing these skills.  When you ask them to wait for their dessert until after dinner, you are using an example of reinforcing the STOP and WAIT behavior to delay gratification.  The more consistent you are with this skill the stronger the Response Inhibition skills become.  

In a famous test using marshmallows to measure preschool children’s delayed gratification,  a marshmallow (or some other desirable treat) was placed in front of a child, and the child was told they could get a second treat if they just resisted temptation for 15 minutes. If they gave in to that temptation of sugar, they only got the one marshmallow BUT if they waited they got more.  Results over the years have been mixed with whether or not this can predict long-term success in life however, it does build a strong foundation for the other elements of Executive functions that are needed to be a productive learner and in social situations.  Being able to inhibit your responses is crucial in making decisions about your safety, long-term consequences, and to balance consequences in social situations.  By teaching children how to master this skills you are building a foundation for other executive functioning skills that develop later that will be crucial for problem solving, learning, and independence.  

To build response inhibition skills early on you want to make sure you are continuing to make it fun and exciting.  Computer games are not necessarily the best choice as your modeling and feedback of the skill is one of the most important parts.  Some of the old school games that we grew up with are the best examples of teaching the Stop and Wait skills.   Games like:

Simon Says

Mother, May I?

Red Light, Green Light

These are all great examples of introducing and practicing the skill of Stop and Wait.  In each of these games you are creating a fun way for your child to listen and respond to the tasks but in order to keep playing you need to stop a behavior in its tracks AND by playing with you it becomes a desired experience that also routes those memories into the fold.  There has been some great research to support emotions and memory so if they link these games/skills with a happy experience with you there is a larger chance the information will solidify and be accessible in the future.

Sesame Street realized the importance of this skill a few years ago and devoted time to addressing it with their young viewers and families.  They consulted with the psychologist that initially conducted the marshmallow test, Walter Mischel, PhD and found a way to help the one character with the biggest problem with Stopping and Waiting….


The result was not only some wonderful children’s programming but my favorite Sesame Street Video EVER which you will find here 🙂

Some of the strategies the Sesame Street team included when teaching kids about self regulation included:

Self-Talk - Teaching kids about using their inner voice to “coach” themselves through an experience to stop and wait.  

Using Self-Distraction - Helping children understand that they can use tools to distract themselves while they wait that include things like: playing with a fidget toy, sitting on their hands, thinking of a happy place/person/experience, counting aloud, or making up a song to pass the time.

Stoplight Strategy: The stoplight strategy may help your child pause and ponder before acting on a stressful situation. It consists of three steps:

  1. Stop (red light): Take a long, deep breath, say the problem, and how you feel.
  2. Make a plan (yellow light): Asking, “What could I do? How could I make these solutions work? Which of these solutions are best?”
  3. Go (green light): Try your best idea. Reflect on what happened. Try another idea if needed.

I will leave you with ONE last tip…  One of the best examples of a lack of Response Inhibition (along with the most annoying) is a behavior that every parent has experienced portrayed by our friends from The Family Guy

This is a parental rite of passage that we have all gone through over…and over…and over again.  Here is a little trick that I learned to help teach your little one to wait while you are talking or doing something else.  After explaining to your child (for the 100th time) that when you are talking or in the middle of something it is not always possible to respond to them immediately you can introduce the touch and response method.  An example of what it looks like is below - just don't mind the mess - I do have 4 kids after all 🙂

When your child needs your attention, they approach you and place their hand on your shoulder (or hand if they are not tall enough).  You immediately respond by placing your hand over theirs to let them know you have recognized that they are there and need your attention.  The expected response from your child is to wait quietly until you turn your attention toward them and ask what they need.  Here is a pro tip with this strategy…. When you first start make sure you try to wrap up your conversation within 10-20 seconds to give more immediately feedback and show them the the strategy works.  As they use it more and more you can increase the time to respond in case you need it.  Also - don’t be afraid to let them know how proud you are of them for waiting!

To Fortnite or Not to Fortnite…That is the Question!

There is an ongoing debate about whether or not the video game Fortnite is something that HELPS or HURTS our kids. Let me begin by saying I am not here to settle that debate! However, I am going to attempt to lay out my findings as an educational psychologist and parent of young (and teen) children, mostly as a result of an increase in parents asking about whether or not they should let their child start to play this game!

First let’s talk about what it is..if you have children older than 5 you have probably heard about Fortnite. Even if you don’t have it in your house, they hear about it from friends at school and come home sharing some of the information they have learned. You might even see them doing the dances associated with the games.The goal of the game is pretty simple: BE THE LAST ONE ALIVE! The game begins in a waiting room while everyone joins (they need 100 players to start) and during hat time, the players show off their dance moves and costumes. Once they hit the 100 mark everyone is dropped onto an island and they begin by rushing to gather supplies then fight to the end. Although the game is free, throughout the game you have the opportunity to purchase things (in-app purchases) that give you a leg up.

So what’s so bad about this? Well some would say it isn’t bad at all. In fact, some think there are many positive aspects associated with Fortnite. It has been argued that this game does a great job at teaching and practicing problem solving and collaboration skills. Teaching kids how to manage each person’s strengths and weaknesses to work together as a team. Additionally, there are others that praise it for being an all inclusive game that evens the playing field for anyone playing (gender, culture, etc).

Then why not just get it for your kid? Well..hold on…there is also some interesting research out there on the negative impact it may have. First, the element of addiction with video games is a real one. See, games like Fortnite have various elements that encourage to play and even more importantly, BUY more things while playing. The game is built on a Random reward format. This is a type of behavior modification tool that has been found to be VERY effective for increasing behaviors (in this case purchases and continued play). By randomly rewarding players during the game, it acts like a virtual slot machine which in turn jacks up their “feel good” brain chemicals and wants them to play more to get the next reward since they don’t know when it might be coming. It could be one minute or 30 minutes….either way….it is worth the wait, so they keep playing.

It also possesses the Near Misses Effect a term referenced by Jamie Madigan (author of Getting Gamers) . This states that you don’t have to win to feel a similar level of excitement and satisfaction ..you just have to get CLOSE to winning, which often happens in this game. This keeps kids coming back for more.

So these things, in general, can be a challenging aspect for anyone playing but for children and teens, it is even more of a red flag. WHY? Because their brains are in the “UNDER CONSTRUCTION” mode so the parts our adult brains, that are developed to manage and control these urges to continue playing, are not yet developed in children and teens. The frontal lobe of the brain is in charge of helping us regulate our thinking, behavior, and actions. It is in charge of things like self regulation, impulse control, problem solving, and attention. So when young children start to play…and KEEP playing Fortnite (and games like it), they often do not have the skills to be able to inhibit themselves from buying things or even stop playing because the chemical brain response is stronger than their ability to manage it since that part of their brain has not fully developed. In addition, even if they had some emerging skills in this area, the game’s format doesn’t allow them to PAUSE as it has so many people fighting to win that if you take a moment to stop you die. This causes a type of tunnel vision that doesn’t allow them to pause for questions, dinner, or even to go to the bathroom once they start or else they risk losing ground and the game. This completely contradicts our goal of helping them develop their ability to stop, think, and react in certain situations.

Here is the bottom line…
Placing the blame on this game or any game for challenges that our kids face is dangerous. There are pros and cons for playing Fortnite. If you feel your child is cognitively mature enough to start playing, then I would encourage you play with them, at least in the beginning, to help point out the problem solving and collaboration opportunities. It would also give you a chance to open a conversation about what might be happening each time they get a REWARD in the game. Start with time limits so it is not a battle later and definitely introduce EARNED screen time so that it becomes something that is a privilege and not perceived as a right.

That being said, there is enough research out there supporting a delay in introduction to screens as well as some solid support for minimizing exposure time to video games to children that we have chosen, as a family, to not include Fortnite just quite yet…but every family, child, and household is different so hopefully this little blip on the information map that is out there will help you frame your response when you son or daughter comes to you and says…

Can I get FORTNITE? EVERYONE is playing it at school!