Emotional Literacy in Children: Why is it so essential and how do we promote it?

What is Emotional Literacy?

A child with good Emotional Literacy skills is able to:

  • Recognise their own emotions
  • Understand potential triggers for the emotion
  • Express the emotion appropriately (verbally, and non-verbally using body language and facial expressions)
  • Recognize emotions within other people and able to respond helpfully with empathy



Why is it important?

Some children are naturally more in-tune with their emotions, whilst others find this more challenging. Regardless of this, all children need their emotional literacy skills nurtured, encouraged and developed by their caregivers!


When a child's Emotional Literacy skills are nurtured, they can go on to develop good Emotional Intelligence, which is the ability to self-regulate when they experience big emotions and also show resilience when they are faced with life's ups and downs. 


Emotional Literacy and Intelligence skills also set the groundwork for children to be able to express their emotions appropriately, and therefore feel comfortable seeking support when they need it. 


“Emotionally literate children are less likely to experience mental health problems” Mental Health Foundation (1998)


Further to this, good Emotional Literacy and Intelligence allows children to understand and recognise other people's emotions and the ability to be empathetic. Empathetic individuals are able to thrive socially and are able to form positive and healthy relationships with others. 


All of these factors above can contribute to a more positive and fulfilled life! 


The Facts: Academic Intelligence Vs Emotional Intelligence

As our children grow and develop, academic development is prioritised as it is associated with leading a more fulfilled and successful life. This is often true however studies and research over the last couple of years provide evidence that in order to get the most out of life, it is crucial for academic and emotional intelligence to work together and compliment each other. 


Emotional literacy and intelligence is just as important, if not, MORE!  


  • Fact 1: A clever scientist called David Goleman found in his studies that only 20% of factors contributing to a ‘successful life’ are made up of IQ. The remaining 80% is made up of Emotional Intelligence! 
  • Fact 2: Research shows that Emotional Literacy is a better predictor of a ‘successful life’ than an individual's IQ score.
  • Fact 3: Children with higher Emotional Intelligence are usually able to perform better academically and concentrate more, perform better in the workplace and also maintain healthy personal relationships. 

Ideas for building emotional literacy with your child

There are so many great ways a parent or carer can support a child with their emotional literacy skills- probably too many to note in one blog! 


Here are some basic suggestions and creative ideas of how to implement them. From these suggestions you can think of your own creative ways that work for you and suit your child best!


  • Suggestion 1: Utilise an emotion wheel!

There are many different versions of this around, you may begin with a more simple wheel with younger children and progressing to a more detailed wheel as they become older and their skills develop. 

I have given two examples at the bottom of this blog.


  • Suggestion 2: Emotion Charades!

This could be done in lots of different ways. You can do this using actions only and the other person needs to guess the feeling. Another way could be to give one another a scenario then the other person could act out the emotion they might feel. Alternatively, you could try and describe the physical feelings attached to an emotion while the other person guesses the emotion.


Emotion wheels could be used within this game to give ideas!


  • Suggestion 3: Using your child's favourite Teddy or toy!

This one is great for the younger children. Here, when your child is displaying an emotion you can reflect on this while talking to their favourite teddy or toy e.g.


- “Wow teddy, ….. was very brave today when they did ….. I wonder if that made them feel a little nervous or worried at first? When I feel worried I sometimes get butterflies in my tummy, I wonder if …. felt that?”.


- “Teddy I think ……. seems really cross right now. I can tell because they have their fists clenched and they were stomping earlier. I wonder if it was because…., how can we help?” 


  • Suggestion 4: Modelling and self disclosure!

Children model what is displayed to them! Given this, utilising ideas such as the above when you yourself are feeling these emotions is really effective (in a child appropriate way). 

For example:

- Chatting to your child about how you feel very excited for weekend plans and it makes you get butterflies in your tummy

- Reflecting that you felt cross when someone shouted at you today and your face began to feel hot.

- Reflecting that you felt a little nervous for your interview and your palms got a bit sweaty! 


Following this, it is also important to model and explain helpful ways that you dealt with this emotion also, as children will model these too!


These are just some of the ways we can help promote children's emotional literacy skills. I hope this blog helped with your understanding as to why this is so important!