Emotional Literacy



What is it?

“Emotional literacy involves having self-awareness and recognition of your own feelings and knowing how to manage them, such as the ability to stay calm when you feel angry or to reassure yourself when in doubt. It includes empathy, i.e. having sensitivity to the feelings of others”. (emotionallyhealthyschools.org). 


How is it helpful for children?

Helping children recognise their own feelings can be useful in a variety of situations. For example, a child being able to recognise that they feel worried can lead to them speaking and sharing their worries. It may also help them regulate more effectively. 


A way to develop this further, is to help children understand some of the physiological symptoms (how the feelings may feel within their body eg. feeling sick may signal worries). 


Being a ‘feelings coach’ as an adult around children can also be really helpful. An example could be “I can see that you are angry”. By labelling feelings, children are able to better understand what emotion they or others are experiencing. 


What else can emotional literacy help with?

As mentioned above, developing emotional literacy can also help with emotional regulation. This can allow children to process and understand big feelings a little more effectively. In addition to this, emotional literacy and understanding feelings in themselves can help them recognise feelings in others too. This can be helpful for children’s social skills and relating to their peers. 


Normalising all feelings can be helpful.

Explaining to children that we experience all feelings can really help them process and understand emotions, particularly big or scary feelings. Allowing children to see that all people at some time in their life feel scared, worried, bored, happy etc. can be really beneficial. 


Is emotional literacy a purely verbal skill?

Emotional literacy is not just verbalising, recognising and labelling feelings. Emotional literacy is also understanding social and body cues. An example of this is understanding what sadness may look like, in a child who cannot or may not say this out loud. We can also apply this to animals, for example saying to a child ‘that puppy looks happy, his tail is wagging and his body is relaxed’ or ‘that dog looks angry, his body looks tense and he is snarling and growling’. 


Helpful therapeutic resources

A favourite resource of mine is Dr. Karen Treisman’s ‘A Therapeutic Treasure Deck’. This resource involves cards which have questions and prompts on and also feelings, with accompanying illustrations. This handy resource has helped me develop children’s understanding of their own and others emotions, or shown me what they think of others. For example, choosing the ‘happy’ card for a friend, or ‘angry’ card for a family member. Another fun therapeutic resource that can be used for emotional literacy is a version of Jenga which has emotions written on the blocks. Each time a block is chosen, myself or the young person read it out and discuss when we or someone else might have experienced that emotion. This can serve as a great way to develop emotional literacy but also allows children to open up conversations on feelings which they might not ordinarily feel comfortable discussing.


Need any more advice?

If you know a young person who may benefit from developing their emotional literacy, please feel free to call us on our duty line (Wednesdays between 2-4pm) on 01642 505580 to discuss further.


We are able to offer helpful tips or advice or signpost you to an appropriate service or referral.