“Boggled By Emotions”—A game for every age!

Dr. Delaney Ruston – It is the last week of Mental Health Awareness Month, and I wanted to recommend a fun game I invented to do with your family that has been given a big thumbs up by youth. It is called “Boggled by Emotions.” It can take as little as two minutes, and I bet it will create some smiles in your home or classroom — I even offer a blog-back guarantee.

This game was born from the fact that emotions can be confusing — and our kids appreciate it when we show them that we understand this. 

As a mom, I didn’t always know how to validate my daughter Tessa’s strong bouts of confusing emotions. In particular, during 9th and 10th grades, Tessa could be clearly flooded by challenging emotions. Her body would be tense, and her eyes and face were so hard to read — sometimes her eyes would fill with tears, but other times they just look worried. She would try to say what she was feeling inside but often would become flustered. In those moments, she would get so frustrated and angry at the world for her inability to understand or name her feelings or know why they were happening. 

As a parent, when you see your child in distress, every fiber of your body wants to help them feel better. I experienced this to the Nth degree. Learning ways to calm my panic brain and what to say and how to behave in ways that would REALLY help her was vital.  

It was a blessing that Tessa was going to a therapist that she liked and that I was able to participate in the sessions when needed. We would all talk about things I was doing that were not helping. For example, I realized that the ways that I was trying to encourage Tessa to express herself, or would try to problem-solve, could at times make things worse. I learned to say things like, “Hun, I get it, I see it, you are having a lot of feelings, and it is ok that you aren’t able to talk about it right now. I am here with you.” 

In Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER, you get to see my journey to understand Tessa’s emotions better and how to help her, and there is even a scene with us together working with her therapist. I firmly believe that the more we show the ways individuals and families gain skills, the better.

So now, more about the game I invented called “Boggled By Emotions.” It’s a great game to play with the family as a way to bring up the topic that emotions are confusing. Even researchers differ on what are all the various emotions that exist and how best to classify them. 

The game is basically a variation on Boggle. In Boggle, you toss dice with one letter on each side, and then they fall randomly into a box of 4 rows by four columns, and all players write down as many words they can make from the letters. Then people take turns reading off their words, and if the other people have the same words, everyone crosses that word off their list of words. People score points for having words that no one else had and win by having the highest number of points.

How “Boggled By Emotions” works:

  1. Everyone has a pen and paper (you don’t need a Boggle set — only pen and paper).
  2. Set a time for 1 minute. 
  3. Then, everyone writes down as many emotions that they can think of as fast they can, without others being able to see their list.
  4. Next, someone (call them Reader 1) volunteers to read all the emotions on their list. So Reader 1 reads “Joy,” then if someone says, I have Joy on my list, then that person, Reader 1, and anyone else with the word Joy, all cross that word off their respective lists. Reader 1 continues reading each word of their list in this same manner. 
  5. Then it goes to the next person until the last person reads their list.
  6. If a person says a word that is not obviously an emotion, like “ready” or “bold,” put a question mark next to it.
  7. Next, bring up these two popular lists of emotions and compare the questioned words against these lists. Here is one list, and here is another. There are many different lists of emotions, and showing our kids two such lists makes the point to them that even among researchers, emotions are confusing! 
  8. Once everyone has had a turn of reading their lists and checking any confusing “emotions,” have everyone count up the number of points — one point per emotion that no one else guessed. 

Ideas to get the conversation started:

  1. Could you ever see doing formal research on emotions?
  2. Did you know that researchers have found that people who report experiencing many emotions also tend to report better emotional well-being than those who report feeling a more limited range of emotions? Why might that be (stay tuned for more on this in an upcoming blog)?
  3. When do and don’t we feel validated by each other concerning our emotions?