Emotional Literacy

He who loses his temper usually loses.

Emotional Literacy includes being able to identify, understand, and express emotions in healthy ways as well as recognize and label feelings of others. Before a child can find solutions to a problem, they need to be able to express how the problem makes them feel.  Without, it is difficult for children to have good problem solving skills and healthy peer interactions.   When a child does not have the words or skill needed to find a solution to their problem, it often comes out as aggressive or challenging behaviors.  Aggressive children then are often rejected by their peers and continue to have social problems until they develop the words and skills to problem solve their feelings.  After all, if you are unable to recognize an emotion how then can you find a solution for what is making you feel that way?

It is very empowering for a child to be able to develop strategies’ to self-sooth and manage their feelings/emotions.  Therefore we should talk about emotions and plan activities regularly to reinforce emotional literacy.  We can help children to recognize and name the facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice of their peers.  Children who have a strong foundation in emotional literacy will be able to tolerate frustration more easily.  They also get along better with others.  It is found that children who have strong emotional literacy are less impulsive.  As teachers it is our responsibility to help children understand that all emotions are valid and to teach them how to deal with them in appropriate ways. 

Because all emotions are valid, teachers need to respond to children’s negative emotions without passing judgment.  Teacher’s coach the child through upsetting moments by staying present and coaching the child through their feelings and then helping them find appropriate solutions. Teachers should be teaching the children the names of the feelings they are experiencing and help them learn to problem solve solutions for those feelings.  When a child can begin to use words to express their feelings, then they can begin to understand and feel empathy towards others.

 Part of emotional literacy is helping children become aware of other people’s facial expressions and body language. Much misunderstanding between children in the classroom and on the playground happens when one or more of the children are misinterpreting the others emotions.  In order for a child to be able to self-regulate they must have an understanding of basic emotions and their effect on others. We should be encouraging our children everyday to practice using words to describe how they are feeling and what they need.  And emotional literacy is important towards academic achievement in school.  Stories cannot be properly understood and appreciated if the child cannot understand the characters feelings.

Preschool aged children like words so teach them lots of descriptive words.  It is healthy to teach words with both positive and negative connotations, as they are all important to emotional literacy.  The more words a child/person has to describe feelings, the better prepared they are for positive problem solving outcomes.  When a child does not have the words or skills needed to problem solve, they often fall into a temper tantrum or another way to act out their feelings, which often comes out as aggression or a challenging behavior.  As annoying as this may be, it is a cry for help in finding a solution to their problem.  By consistently providing teaching skills for emotional literacy and the actions needed to cope with these feelings, many challenging behaviors should be eliminated from your day-to-day routines.  Teach the children to respond to emotions in safe and acceptable ways.

There are no shortcuts to building emotional literacy.  Although there are many stand alone materials to help reinforce the children’s understanding of emotional literacy, they should be integrated into the classroom along with regular discussion and daily descriptions of feelings happening in real time.  Teaching emotional literacy is like all school readiness goals, it is a slow and steady progress.  For example, children who feel both safe and loved in their environment will act more loving and compassionate towards others.  To act loving is not something that is instinct, it is something that a child is taught.  Or we tell children to “calm down” but then forget to teach them what calm down means (to relax or settle down).

Feeling Words

Afraid, Affection, Annoyed, Awful, Bored, Brave, Calm, Capable, Caring, Cheerful, Clumsy, Confused, Comfortable, Confident, Cooperative, Creative, Cruel, Curious, Depressed, Disappointed, Disgusted, Ecstatic, Embarrassed, Enjoying, Excited, Exhausted, Fantastic, Fearful, Fed-up, Free, Friendly, Frightened, Gentle, Generous, Gloomy, Guilty, Ignored, Impatient, Important, Interested, Jealous, Joyful, Lonely, Lost, Loving, Overwhelmed, Peaceful, Pleasant, Proud, Relaxed, Relieved, Safe, Satisfied, Shy, Silly, Strong, Stubborn, Suspicious, Tense, Thoughtful, Thrilled, Troubled, Unafraid, Uncomfortable, Weary, Worried

Ideas for teaching Emotional Literacy

  • Make All About the Way I Feel books.  On each page write about an emotion.  Encourage children to draw an illustration.  (I feel happy when I ____, I feel afraid when I ___.  It makes me mad when ____.  I am proud when I ___.  I feel excited when ____.  Etc.).
  • Get an old pillowcase and stuff it with a pillow or foam.  The children can use it as a punching bag or hit it like a piñata.
  • Do something as a class for someone.  Start a blanket drive for the homeless, a mitten tree at the holidays, draw pictures for a nursing home.
  • Make a copy of a set of Emotion cards.  Put them in a basket so the children cannot see them.  Tell the children tat we only have one face but we can change it to show how we are feeling.  Have a child come and pick an Emotion card from the basket without the other children seeing.  Have the child copy the expression while the other children guess.  Give hints if necessary.
  • On a large piece of paper draw a soft fluffy looking cloud shape.  Explain the children that when someone does something kind for you, it makes you feel good inside, all warm and fuzzy.  Ask the children if they can think of things that make them feel warm and fuzzy.  Write their response on the cloud shape.  The next time draw a circle with sticks poking out of it.  Explain that when people are mean and thoughtless it makes you feel cold and prickly inside.  Ask the children to name times when they felt cold and prickly.
  • Cut out many circles of green, red, and/or purple.  Encourage the children to draw different emotions on each (smiley face, angry face, sad).  Hang them on the wall as like bunches of grapes and label it A Bunch of Feelings.
  • Share bits of your life with the children and make sure you talk about the emotions that went along with.  (My cat threw up last night and it was pretty disgusting but I felt sorry for my cat because when I am sick I feel icky/awful in my head.  So I pet my cat to help her feel better.
  • The Center on Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning has a huge book list that deals with various emotions and problem solving.
  • Help children learn to calm down by taking long deep breaths.  When they are agitated, ask them “Do you smell that?”  If they say No have them smell again. 
  • Often throughout the day stop and identify a child’s behavior and put an Emotion label to it.  (You look proud; did you just figure out how to do this hard puzzle?  You look upset; tell me what’s wrong.  Are you sad; may I give you a hug?).
  • Set your emotion cards out where the child can easily see them.  Make up a scenario and ask the child to find the picture that best shows the emotion it makes them feel.  (My family is going to the pool and my Dad said he was going to teach me how to swim.  My Grandma is coming to my house tomorrow).
  • Ask the children to show you where they would stand to have a conversation with a parent, a friend, a stranger.
  • Today I felt ___ when ___.  Dictation
  • Praise children when you hear them use emotion words to describe them selves or a peer.
  • Place mirrors around the room so children can see themselves making various faces.  (I can tell you are working so hard because your face looks determined.  I can tell you are having a hard time because your face looks frustrated).
  • When a child is struggling with an emotion, describe what their face looks like and name the emotion for them.  (Lee won’t share the wagon with you.  Your face looks like this.  You must be really angry/upset/frustrated).