We know that supporting children’s social and emotional development is key to school readiness and overall healthy growth and development. One critical component of a child’s social and emotional development is their ability to experience, regulate, and express emotions in socially and culturally appropriate ways. We call this emotional literacy. According to research, children who have a strong foundation in emotional literacy:
- tolerate frustration better
- get into fewer fights
- engage in less destructive behavior
- are healthier
- are less lonely
- are less impulsive
- are more focused
- have greater academic achievement
On the other hand, children who don’t learn to use emotional language have a hard time labeling and understanding their own feelings or accurately identifying how others feel.
There are many strategies you can use as an early childhood professional to help support children’s emotional literacy.
One technique that works with infants, toddlers and preschoolers is indirect teaching, which would be when a teacher provides emotional labels – “you’re happy” or “you’re frustrated” – as children experience various affective states.
Another example of indirect teaching is building on teachable moments. When children are in the dramatic play area and acting out a scenario, comment on the character’s feeling. For example, the children are “playing house” and the child being the baby is crying. You may then respond, “Why is the baby crying? I think she is sad. What do you think?”
Also you are a model for helping children identify and appropriately express their emotions. Therefore, model your own feelings when you are talking with children: “I’m excited that the fire fighters are coming tomorrow in their truck to visit us!” “I’m sad that Melissa is leaving our group and moving to Maine.”
Lisa Poppe, Extension Specialist | The Learning Child
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