What is Emotional Literacy?

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, teachers, counselors, and educational support staff will learn the definition of emotional literacy. The lesson will also discuss why educators should teach emotional literacy, and give suggestions for implementing it into the school culture.

Teaching Emotional Literacy

Educators, including classroom teachers and counselors, wear many hats. Aside from teaching and counseling, they are often responsible for consoling distraught students, being disciplinarians, and teaching life skills. Another job of an educator is to teach students about emotional literacy.

Emotional literacy refers to the ability to express one's emotional state and communicate one's feelings. A person with well-developed emotional literacy is therefore able to recognize and respond to the emotional states of others. This is considered a hallmark of healthy relationships.

Children must be taught to identify and regulate their emotions. A lack of emotional literacy can affect everything from a student's attitude to his or her social skills and academic performance.

That's where the educator comes in. Teachers spend an average of seven hours per day, five days a week with their young learners. How they handle the topic of emotional literacy can have a huge impact on their students.

Name That Feeling

Unfortunately, not many people discuss their emotions with children. Children are perceptive to people's moods, but they need to be taught how to respond to them and how to regulate their own emotions.

For example, young children are prone to temper tantrums when something doesn't go their way. When this happens, many parents and caregivers ignore the behavior in an attempt to make it go away. Instead, try letting the child know that his or her feelings are completely valid. You might say something like, 'I understand that you're feeling angry right now. I become angry when I can't have my favorite snack, too.' This is not the same thing as 'giving in.' Rather, it simply validates their feelings.

This practice of empathizing with children may not immediately diminish the tantrum, but over time, the child comes to understand that it's normal to feel a wide range of emotions. Just like clouds in the sky, a person's emotional state will eventually pass, paving the way for new emotions.

In contrast, when children are encouraged to avoid their emotions by being told 'don't cry' or 'you're fine,' they are losing out on important development skills that can help foster their emotional literacy. They may come to see expressing their emotions as unsafe or inappropriate.

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