In a recent webinar on strategies for enhancing emotional regulation in young children, we were joined by Jan Blaxall and Janet Foster from Tools for Life! Jan and Janet explained how emotional literacy is the cornerstone of emotional regulation, and the role educators can play in fostering both. We learned how to select and use books for emotional literacy, and how opportunities to enhance emotional literacy happen in the classroom every day!
Why does self-regulation matter in childhood?
Both adults and children need to learn to express their feelings appropriately, understanding that there are no “right” or “wrong” feelings. Children need to learn strategies that work for them to regulate their emotional state. Young children in particular need a close connection with a trusted and calm person so that they learn to co-regulate before self-regulating.
Why does emotional literacy matter in the classroom?
Emotional literacy is the ability to recognize, label, and understand feelings in ourselves and each other. It is a prerequisite skill to emotional regulation and successful interpersonal interactions and problem solving and is one of the most important skills a child is taught in the early years.
Emotional literacy enables children to be socially competent and able to read social cues.
Emotional literacy leads to emotional intelligence and regulation.”
Emotional intelligence refers to how well a person feels their own feelings and whether they have empathy for and get along with others. Children who are emotionally intelligent tend to feel more connected to others and gets along well with other children.
For example, infants feel the basic emotions of contentment and distress any time from birth to six weeks of age. Between 6 and 14 weeks, they feel basic emotions of anger, fear, and joy. By the time they are two years old and continuing through early childhood, complex, self-conscious emotions appear. (Saarni, Mumme, & Campos, 1998; Wier 2012)
Building emotional literacy
A large and more complex feeling vocabulary allows children to:
- Discriminate between feelings
- Communicate how they are feeling to others
- Engage in discussions about their personal experiences with the world
A child’s first steps in developing a sense of self-control involve being able to:
- Recognize different feelings in themselves
- Express those feelings appropriately
- Manage their feelings
All put together, this is called “emotional competence.”
Why books matter in building emotional literacy
Using books that deal with feelings is an ideal way to help children acquire the emotional literacy that will last a lifetime. Books contain information that stimulates the adult-child exchange of ideas on different topics. The relevance of each book encourages children to make meaningful connections between their classroom and home experiences. Books also encourage acceptance as they can legitimize children’s emotional responses to crisis situations. (Dr. Mary Jalongo)
Exploring feelings during shared reading helps children understand:
- Labels for their feelings
- What each feeling looks like
- Different things that cause each feeling in themselves and others
- Ways to show their feelings
- How to change or maintain a feeling
Emotional intelligence: the educator’s role
The foundational element for emotional literacy is a supportive and caring relationship. This is where educators play a large role.
Emotional intelligence is nourished in an environment that requires children to make choices and develop social skills – interpersonal and intrapersonal – to succeed in life and school.”Jim Greenman
Educators can assist children with noticing and labeling their feelings. They can positively reinforce children who use words to describe how they are feeling. They can also help draw attention to how a child’s peers are feeling.
In a classroom setting, opportunities for enhancing emotional literacy occur daily. When educators model and help children express feelings and recognize others’ feelings, children start to develop positive social skills such as perspective taking, empathy, and emotional regulation and are less likely to engage in challenging behavior.
A strong social-emotional focus is naturally embedded in play-based learning, which then creates a calm and caring learning environment for children.