Help kids to understand and express big feelings and emotions with these paper roll empathy dolls. This is a fun DIY toy you can make from recycled paper rolls and our free printable template.
This craft was originally published in 2013 as part of an empathy blog hop and has been revised and updated for today’s audience.
You might also like these 40 Recycled crafts for kids
Learning about big emotions is part of growing up – everybody has them. Siblings fight, best friends have arguments, unexpected things happen and sometimes life just doesn’t go the way we want it to.
With kids, sometimes the tiniest things can spiral into a tantrum. To an adult, it seems like a very big reaction to a very little thing. It can be easy to forget that this is all a part of a bigger picture.
By arguing, fighting and disagreeing with others, kids are learning conflict resolution and social skills that will help them as adults in the real world when they grow up. It may not seem like they are resolving anything at all, but they are learning through experience what happens when things don’t go their way. When they throw a tantrum they are expressing (very loudly) how they feel.
How can the situation be resolved, and how do you get kids to think about the way the other person is feeling?
Our paper roll empathy dolls are a small step in that direction.
Empathy dolls were designed to help kids role-play different situations and talk about the emotions they might trigger. They are simplified a little because you can only fit so many faces inside one paper roll, but I tried to include the most common and important “big feelings”.
Paper roll empathy dolls work by rotating the outside cardboard roll around an inner paper tube made from a printable template. The face changes when it rotates to reflect different emotions.
The finished empathy doll can change from happy, to scared/worried, to angry and to sad.
How to use paper roll empathy dolls
Use the paper roll people you design to make up little stories. These stories are different to the usual kind, because the characters have feelings just like in real life. They might go something like this …
My girls were aged 3 and 4 when we made this craft. We talked about feelings, and created some stories with dolls. They also loved playing with the dolls on their own (although they fought over who got which one!) and liked changing the faces to suit what was happening in their games.
How to make paper roll empathy dolls
You will need:
- The Empathy Doll template. Put your name in the form below and it will be sent to you via email (it’s free)
- A piece of heavy paper stock. Ordinary white paper is a bit too flimsy, probably the thickest that will go through your printer is best, or alternatively print on white paper and stick it to a piece of very thin board.
- A standard size toilet roll or paper towel roll cut in half
- craft knife
- double sided tape (or you could use a glue stick)
- Paper scraps and sharpie marker to decorate
- A piece of thick recycled cardboard for a base
Print out the template
Put double sided tape on the tabs of your print out before you cut it out, it is much quicker this way (trust me!). Cut along all the lines in the bottom tab after the double sided tape is in place. Cut out the disc and also cut the centre-circle out to make a hole in the middle.
Once your pieces are cut out, roll the faces into a tube, bend the bottom tabs into a right-angle and slide the disc piece (with the hole cut in it) over the top. Cover a slightly oversized base with double sided tape and stick the disc & tube on to it, then trim to size.
Use the small circle marked “face” to trace around at the top of your toilet roll and then cut this circle out with a sharp craft knife or scalpel. The trick is to make sure it is very sharp (the kids can definitely not do this part). Mine is about 9mm from the top of the roll, but roll sizes can vary so it’s best to double-check how far it needs to be on the roll you have by holding the piece with the faces next to the toilet roll and making a small mark with a pencil of where to put the face hole.
Here you have the base for your empathy doll, now all you need to do is decorate (however you like!)
Aren’t they lovely?
You could decorate the dolls to look like mini versions of your own kids, like one of their favourite characters or just a random mini person.
Check out these ideas to cultivate Empathy in Children:
• Here are 10+ ways to use emotion cards to help your children develop empathy at Moments a Day
• Explore Empathy through Art over at Craft Whack
• Teach empathy through role play at The House of Hendrix
• Foster Empathy through service at Pennies of Time
More Paper roll crafts kids will love
• Make a paper roll dinosaur
• A paper roll and plastic cup can be put to good use as a DIY iphone speaker
• These paper roll shakers are so much fun
• Paper roll frogs are easy to make with our printable template
• Or make a paper roll Batman and Robin
Mia Alexandra Quiroz Delgado says
They are very lovely
wow. no offence, but: which part of this is supposed to be a toddler craft? it was complicated enough for me as an adult to put a doll together. all the kids could do is sit and watch me. not what I had in mind.
Fair point. This idea is a DIY toy for learning rather than a craft for toddlers (who are too young to do most crafts — not just this one). Preschoolers and older kids could draw/paint/create the person collage on the front, and depending on their age and level of fine motor skills could cut out and glue the paper part. I know that a kid-made version wouldn’t look like the version I’ve made, that’s unrealistic.
While this does require some prep work, from a therapeutic standpoint, this is a great tool for kids to better understand and process emotional regulation and to practice empathy. Thank you for this idea!