family paper roll dolls: a silly way to help teach emotions


talk about emotions with kidsI’ve had a really difficult time with my sweet Cora lately, and I’m not sure how much longer we can chalk her hot-headedness up to a bad case of  the three’s. Cora’s quick temper and occasional wicked tantrum may be due to her less-structured schedule as compared to Maddy and Owen when they were her age (it’s natural for the youngest to be schlepped here, there, and everywhere, right?), but I’m tired of making excuses.

Especially with our recent playground ‘bully’ and as the holiday crazies approach, I’ve been on the hunt for a sneaky way of playing with emotions–showing emotions, talking about emotions, and changing emotions. For Cora, specifically, but I thought that Owen could use some more talk about how our behavior effects others as well.

I ran across this idea a few weeks ago, and with a little tweaking and making it my own, I hit the jackpot if I do say so myself: Family Paper Roll Dolls.

  • Family Paper Roll Dolls: Two of my sisters and husband will have me for this one, I’m sure.  When I begged them to let me take their pictures, responding to emotions I called out, they had no idea their faces would be donning empty toilet paper rolls several days later.  But it’s for such a good cause, I promise! So thank you.  And how funny are these?

I took pictures of Maddy, Owen, Cora, my husband, Aunt Mary, Aunt Katie, Brady (yes, Brady!), and myself showing exaggerated emotions. I wanted everyone to show me faces–and bodies–demonstrating happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, and confusion.

Maddy stood on her head for a super-silly one, and the angry one of my husband is ANGRY.  Brady even smiled for his happy one.

talk about emotions with kidsour family, ready to become paper roll dolls

talk to kids about emotions family paper roll dolls

Then I printed out their pictures, cut them out, and taped them to empty toilet paper rolls.  We had been collecting the rolls for ages–and who knows why?–but we had enough for 3-4 dolls for every person, which is exactly what I wanted. I taped the cut-outs to the rolls because glue would have made the paper bleed.

And as the family paper roll dolls were created, Cora helped me line them up on the table.

It was crazy to see our family members showing so many different emotions, all on one tabletop.

My goal for this activity, just a short bit of time after Cora and I had lunch and before her rest time, was to use the family dolls to show how we influence each other’s emotions. I wanted her to see how the words we use and the decisions we make can make another person feel happy or sad in a matter of seconds and that we can affect each other in both positive–and negative– to kids about emotions family paper roll dolls

talk to kids about emotions family paper roll dolls

So Cora instantly called out that she was going to be Maddy, Aunt Mary, and Aunt Katie (sorry, Aunt Jenny, we didn’t have your photo session yet!), and I said I wanted to be Owen.

We took our dolls–the happy ones–and I brought the basket of other dolls along.

Cora said she wanted me to make a sign that said “Our Ice-cream Stand” so that her dolls could work there and my doll could buy ice-cream. It was the perfect set-up.

I had my Owen doll ask to buy ice-cream, and the first time he asked politely, requested a flavor I knew they’d have, and he walked away happily.

The next time, my mean-faced Owen doll walked up, demanded the biggest dirt-flavored ice-cream cone they had, and Maddy doll said they didn’t have the flavor he wanted.

talk to kids about emotions family paper roll dolls

talk to kids about emotions family paper roll dollsAunt Mary paper roll doll, taking a break from work.

I changed the Owen doll to sad-faced Owen, and in a sad-dog whiny voice he cried that he didn’t know what to do.

I talked to the doll (yes, I’m bordering on crazy, I know) and said, Owen, maybe if you ask Maddy fora regular ice-cream flavor in a nicer, more polite way, she’ll be able to help you.

Sad-faced Owen doll went back to the store, asked muuuch more politely, and muuuch more kindly for an ice-cream, and Maddy doll gave him one.  He magically switched (poof!) into the happy Owen doll and ate his ice-cream.

talk to kids about emotions family paper roll dollsAunt Mary heads back to work at the Ice-Cream Stand.

talk to kids about emotions family paper roll dolls

talk to kids about emotions family paper roll dolls

We played out scenes like this one for about fifteen or twenty minutes–not too long.  I noticed that Cora’s own littleface changed when I pulled out an angry-faced doll or sad-faced doll in response to something another doll said, and I wonder if the in-your-face blatant switch of emotions helped her to see more clearly how words and actions affect others.

We laughed a lot and we talked a lot.  Here’s to hoping that something clicked!

talk to kids about emotions family paper roll dolls

The dolls are still in their basket, and Maddy, Owen, and Cora have played randomly with them a bit over the last few days, though nothing quite with the focus I intended–and that’s fine.  I’ll pull them out again one day this week with Owen and Cora while they’re home from school. We’ll see how it goes. . .

Will they last forever? Nope.

Can they be used to teach storytelling, role-playing, questioning, and a million other things? Yes, yes, and YES!

Are they environmentally friendly? Oh yeeeeah. Nothing beats an inexpensive, recycled something made into a toy.

Are they totally silly and ridiculous? Absolutely. I give full credit for this silliness to my pal, Allie, of No Time for Flashcards, who made them a few weeks ago and had her son color them.  They made me laugh so hard and got my wheels a turnin’.  Thanks, Allie!

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talk to kids about emotions family paper roll dolls




  1. Dawn K. says

    I would probably use my laminator, and make these more durable for my 7 month old. She’s having a little anxiety around family members she doesn’t see too often (she’s a HUGE mommy’s girl) and this way at least their image would be something she could become familiar with. I know it’s a stretch at 7 months old, but I like to imagine she’s brilliant some days. :)

    • amy says

      Dawn, she IS brilliant. I just know it.
      And everything we do w/ our little ones–even as young as 7 months–helps!
      Laminating these would be so smart, as we’re finding that they are not hanging tough through the kids’ (and Brady’s) rough play.

  2. says

    I love the idea of adding emotions to the figures, I had seen somewhere recently that you can make napkin rings with the pictures of people that would be at Thanksgiving and add either pilgrim or indian attire to make it a fun festive idea too, but I love the doll concept! I really enjoy reading your blog and your great ideas have been very helpful!

    • amy says

      Robin–thanks for your kind words–I really, really appreciate hearing them!

      I LOVE the idea of adding pilgrim hats/ headdresses to the paper roll dolls. Shhhh! Guess what I’m going to surprise my family with on Tgiving??!

  3. says

    What a great idea! I think that we’d use them for acting things out too just like your family. Love how they turned out and love the idea of adding little Pilgrim hats for some Thanksgiving fun! Can you add some super overstuffed dolls to the mix because we’d need some to reflect our family’s gluttony! LOL!

  4. Kelly B says

    This sounds like a great way to teach my pre-k class about emotions and empathy towards others. Especially when I hear “Your not my friend” and ” You aren’t invitied to my birthday party” etc… thanks for the idea!!!

  5. stacey says

    LOVE this idea! we currently have a special container that contains Feelings cards. It’s a poster from the learning store of many emotions, laminated, and then each stick figure w/feeling label was cut out and put in this bucket. Also, the kids made “emotions” popsicle sticks. I bought plain craft sticks that have the people shaped head on top and the kids colored them/made faces–hungry, scared, dizzy (silly), sad, etc.
    So, all these things are in a bucket and can be retrieved when feeling that emotion or mommy can ask, how are you feeling?
    We also have a PEACE ZONE in our house. this is based on the Montessori peace shelf. The wall is decorated with Peace symbols–doves, roses–colored by the kids. This is another way to role play and use the emotions people or cards.
    Thanks again for sharing your idea. It’s always good to have fresh ones ready when the kiddos tire of the old ones.
    Love your site!!

    • amy says

      WOW! Stacey, fab idea. Thanks for the new ideas; I’d love to take a look at the cards…or maybe I can just make our family pictures into cards. Hmmmm…

  6. Jacquelyn Labert says

    Great idea. I love the pictures of happy Aunt Mary!!!

    I’d use the tape to label our many organization boxes of art supplies, toys, games etc.

  7. says

    I’m bordering on crazy too! I pulled out my old cabbage patch doll to “talk” to my boys after naps the other day. They were soo much more agreeable to share their toys with her than with each other. In fact, they did anything Cabbage patch doll asked them to do. So, I MAY be talking to my kids as a cabbage patch every day.
    I would love to make some of these puppets, too. We made some puppets out of stickers a while back but we only had girl stickers. My 2 year old said, “you need make me BOY puppets.” So that’s what I would do!

    • amy says

      Ha! So glad to hear I’m not alone in my crazies! Who knew we’d be pulling out this kind of stuff once we had kids?!


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