First of all, to start with; what is emotional literacy and how does it differ from emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence is the ability to be in tune with one’s feelings and emotions whereas, emotional literacy is the ability to communicate, put these emotions into words and also to be able to identify them in others. The ability to manage our emotions and also how we express them and be empathic with others, helps us in maintaining healthy relationships throughout our life. Moreover, studies show that when children attain the ability of being emotional intelligent they perform better in academic achievements, lead a healthier life and also have stronger relationships (Atkins, 2017).
Daniel Goleman, in his book ‘Emotional Intelligence’ (Atkins, 2017), has identified five aspects of emotional intelligence which when acquired support children in becoming emotionally literate. These five aspects include:-
- Being aware of the emotions and knowing the emotion that is; to recognise a feeling,
- Managing emotions,
- Self-motivation that is; the ability to be in charge of the emotions and not be controlled by the emotion itself,
- Be able to empathise – being aware of others’ feelings and,
- Handle relationships – be able to build relationships with others.
But if children lack emotional intelligence, can we help them to develop this skill? Yes, definitely. Though a few instinctively have this ability, emotional literacy is something that is nurtured, ideally by parents and/or carers. Even an adult can enhance one’s emotional literacy though it is harder to develop this skill in adulthood, it is not impossible to improve this skill. Since it is harder to improve in adulthood, it is very important that adults help children improve this skill when they are still young.
The following are some tips how to help children develop or enhance this skill.
- Accept children’s emotions and label the emotion. Don’t criticise the way they feel, rather explore their emotions and name it with them, such as ‘I can tell that you are feeling happy’ or ‘this made you feel frustrated’.
- Go beyond that feeling. Help your child to talk about how they feel. Be available for them to talk and create a safe space.
- Parent your children with compassion. Be a model to children, that is, express how you feel if something made you angry/sad and let them know why such as; ‘I’ve had a bad day at work and I feel tired today, so can we talk about this later when I am more relaxed?’.
- Teach them how to control your emotions. Like the example above, help them understand that emotions can be expressed but also controlled for later discussions.
- Help them be aware of others’ feelings. Even while watching a film with your kids, ask them open-ended questions like ‘How do you think that made her feel?’ (Referring to a character and situation from the film). This helps them be aware of others’ feelings and also to empathise with others around us.
- Teach them alternative ways of how to express their feelings. Like, ‘Can you think of a different way to show me how you are feeling rather than shouting?’
- Focus on their best results to motivate them. Rather than praising them, celebrate their effort. Say things like ‘I noticed that though it was not easy for you, you keep trying – well done, that’s great’.
Try these out and watch them blossom!
Rachel Osmond is a Family Therapist with Willingness who works with individuals, couples and families. She also has experience with children and adolescents.
Atkins, S. (2017). Helping children develop emotional literacy. Parentkind: Bringing together home and school. Retrieved on the 26th March, 2021 from https://www.parentkind.org.uk/blog/8719/Helping-children-develop-emotional-literacy#:~:text=’Emotional%20intelligence’%20is%20a%20person’s,and%20read%20them%20in%20others.