“With tweens and teens, it’s pretty common to hear ‘I don’t know how to describe what I’m feeling,’” says Meagan Butler, LPC. “And often, multiple emotions are happening at the same time.” As a therapist, Butler found assistance in the form of a fluffy pillow featuring the Emotion Wheel, an emotional regulation tool that helps clients find the words to capture complex feelings. When she became the Chief Care Model Officer for Lucero, Butler’s pillow became the inspiration for Spark, the wellness app’s core emotional regulation feature. Here’s how our version of the Emotion Wheel helps adolescents develop critical emotional regulation skills and boost their confidence.

What is the Emotion Wheel?

The original Emotion Wheel was designed by Dr. Gloria Willcox, who noted that, in therapy, people seemed to “find themselves at a loss for words when describing how they feel… handicapped in their ability to verbalize their emotions by learned behaviors of what is and is not acceptable when it comes to sharing feelings.”

Butler found that many tweens and teens didn’t understand some of the words on Willcox’s Emotion Wheel, so Lucero’s version features developmentally appropriate language. “We use language that a 9-year-old would use,” says CEO Jillian Domingue. Like the original Emotion Wheel, Lucero’s wheel begins with six primary emotions: happy, scared, loved, angry, sad, and anxious. Each primary emotion, represented by a different color, forms the spokes of a central wheel. Another circle radiates out with secondary emotions. For example, some of the secondary emotions for mad include annoyed, offended, and jealous.

How it Works

Recent research shows that being able to label emotions is an important first step in regulating them. The simple act of naming an emotion stimulates the release of calming neurotransmitters and decreases activity in the amygdala, which processes emotional responses. Psychiatrist Dan Siegel calls this process “Name it to tame it.”

Butler and a team of certified clinical therapists and youth advisors devised the Spark feature by building on the Emotion Wheel concept to include multiple real-time tools for regulating emotions. When users click on Spark, simple questions help Lucero understand their emotional state. They identify their primary emotion and rate its intensity on an interactive scale. Next, they spin the wheel to generate an activity to support regulation of that specific emotion. For example, a user who’s feeling extremely overwhelmed might be prompted to notice the signs in their body when they start to feel overwhelmed. Tools include self-reflection, future-focusing, perspective-taking, and reframing.

How it Helps Tweens and Teens

Butler says that developing emotional regulation skills is often one of the first priorities for clinical therapists who provide trauma-informed care to youth. “Strengthening emotional regulation skills helps them learn that they can control their emotional state, thereby increasing their self-efficacy… They not only feel better in the moment but also experience a boost in confidence, believing in their ability to carry out the behaviors necessary for reaching their goals.” 

Fun Fact: Spark contains over 600 different research-backed emotional regulation activities co-created by certified clinical therapists and our youth advisory team!

What Are the Benefits of Spark?

When Lucero conducted a pilot study on Spark user data in early 2023, it was discovered that, before using Spark, 56% of participants reported dealing with negative emotions, and 88% reported their negative emotion to be at a moderate to high intensity. After using Spark, 60% of participants reported feeling better. On average, the intensity of adolescents’ negative moods decreased by nearly 1 point after completing the emotional regulation activities generated by the Spark Wheel.

Butler says these new skills positively impact adolescents, their peers, and their families. “Emotional regulation builds confidence,” she says. “Being able to name your emotions is a part of authenticity, and self-efficacy is based on authenticity. It also helps tweens and teens develop empathy and understand others’ perspectives when in conflict with family members and friends.” That’s why emotional regulation is one of the cornerstones of Lucero’s holistic approach to supporting adolescent mental health and lifelong well-being.

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