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6 Ways to Foster Emotional Literacy in Kids


What is emotional literacy to kids? Learn how to assess and nurture your child's emotional literacy through fun parent-child activities.

Joy, anger, fear, surprise, sadness—all of these emotions can be challenging to navigate at times, even after decades of experience. For children who are just beginning to understand the world around them, these feelings can seem huge, if not enormous and overwhelming.

Fortunately, parents and caregivers are in the perfect place to help children manage their emotions productively and positively. 

Read on as we dive into the realm of emotional literacy and why it’s key to a lifetime of health and happiness. 

What is Emotional Literacy in Kids?

Emotional literacy in kids refers to a child’s ability to:

  • Recognize and label tricky emotions when they arise (what neuropsychiatrist Dr. Daniel Siegel calls “Name It to Tame It”).
  • Handle difficult feelings through effective emotional expression and self-soothing techniques.
  • Identify, adapt to, and empathize with the different emotions of those around them.

Why is fostering emotional literacy in kids essential to their development? Because when emotions feel too big to deal with, kids may resort to negative behaviors. Building emotional well-being at a young age also creates a well of resilience children can dip into, now and throughout adulthood, just as it promotes stronger, more loving relationships. 

In order to help your young child handle their big emotions and develop a strong emotional vocabulary, Slumberkins has created our Creatures Full of Feelings card game. Through play therapy, kids learn how to navigate different emotions with these activity cards, which, in turn, develops their emotional literacy skills.

How to Assess Current Emotional Literacy Levels 

Understanding your child’s emotional literacy (or “EQ,” as it’s commonly called) is largely intuitive but also comes down to asking:

  • Does my child embrace the point of view of others?
  • Does my child recognize what their family members and friends might be feeling?
  • Does my child console others?

Naturally, these are just a handful of questions to consider. Above all, tuning into how your child reacts to different environments and people can tell you a great deal about where they stand emotionally. 

Evaluating Children’s Emotional Awareness and Expression

To dig a bit deeper into your child’s EQ, consider these particular questions:

  • Can my child put their emotions into words?
  • Is my child able to talk through what they’re experiencing with a trusted loved one, or do they grow withdrawn or angry?

It should go without saying that there is no right or wrong answer to any of these questions. Rather, they should give you a clearer picture of the specific emotional places your child may need help with.

Identifying Areas for Improvement

Perhaps you want to teach your child patience. Or maybe they wrestle with calming down after an argument. Whatever the case may be, pinpointing where your child might need the most assistance allows you to craft an emotional literacy strategy—a topic we’ll turn to next. 

How to Foster Emotional Literacy Skills in Kids

Emotional literacy pays off in the short and long term: Research indicates that it’s also critical to impulse control, concentration, and academic success. Try strengthening your child’s EQ by: 

#1. Introducing Emotions and Their Names

The more you can identify your emotions and help your child recognize their own, the more emotionally fluent they will become. 

This might look like:

  • Naming a strong emotion when it comes up and possibly providing a solution, such as saying, “I’m frustrated that my car isn’t working! Good thing our mechanic is on the way.”
  • Working with your child on their emotional vocabulary

#2. Encouraging Open Communication About Feelings

When your child appears upset, you may want to provide them with a space to explore what they may be feeling. Influencing their emotional courage may sound like “Would you like to talk about it?” or “When you’re ready, I would love to hear what’s on your mind and in your heart.” Feeling a sense of connection may reassure your child that they can safely speak about which big emotion is affecting them.

#3. Modeling Healthy Emotional Expression 

Children learn primarily through observing and mimicking the behaviors of those closest to them, in what Dr. Albert Bandura calls “Social Cognitive Theory.” Put simply, how you express your emotions directly influences how your child will process theirs. 

But what does “healthy emotional expression” look like? It may be:

  • Acknowledging and communicating how you feel
  • Practicing mindfulness exercises
  • Demonstrating optimism by arriving at a solution or doing something to improve your mood, such as saying, “Let’s go for a walk to feel better.”

#4. Practicing Empathy and Perspective-Taking 

Empathy plays a pivotal role in emotional literacy. But how to teach empathy to children, exactly?

Again, modeling behavior is one of the leading ways you can inspire emotional learning and empathy in your child. This might involve talking about other people’s feelings (“I noticed that your friend Sarah seemed sad today”), suggesting specific ways your child can demonstrate concern (“It looks like Sarah could use a hug”), and empathizing with your child: “Are you worried about your first day of school? I know it can be scary. Just know that I’ll be waiting for you as soon as your last bell rings.”

#5. Building Emotional Resilience and Coping Skills

One of the greatest outcomes of a strong EQ is that it helps kids get through even the most challenging situations and gives them a toolkit of coping skills. Not only can you model smart coping tactics—like going for that walk—but you could also encourage your child to consider how they might react to certain situations through stories and movies. This may give way to an insightful conversation about positive vs negative coping strategies. Plus, it’s a great way to teach conflict resolution skills in kids and show them the importance of having empathy for others during confrontations.

#6. Encouraging a Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is defined by a deeply held belief that our innate abilities can be enhanced through effort. In terms of emotional literacy, it may appear as:

  • Encouraging your child to face challenges 
  • Helping your child view failure as a springboard for change and growth
  • Sharing personal stories of how you overcame difficulties
  • Using positive affirmation cards
  • Referring to story characters to show your child what perseverance looks like in action and incorporating other growth mindset activities into their weekly routine
  • Modeling persistence in conquering problems

The potential result? A can-do attitude that embraces emotions in all of their forms—and inspires your child to believe they can handle whatever feelings and situations might arrive throughout their lives. 

How Slumberkins Can Help Teach Emotional Literacy 

Some emotions may feel uncomfortable and even intolerable at times for children and adults alike. Yet, all emotions serve a purpose: They urge us into action, motivate future behaviors, and help us cultivate connections.

Slumberkins would be delighted to nurture your efforts. From our Ibex Feels Deeply board book to our full Emotional Courage Kit, we offer a full range of products that empower kids to embrace their feelings. In turn, you may grow closer to your own and your child.

 

Sources: 


American Psychological Association. APA dictionary of psychology. https://dictionary.apa.org/primary-emotion


Emotionally Healthy Schools. Emotional literacy. https://emotionallyhealthyschools.org/whole-school-approach/emotional-literacy/


Dr. Dan Siegel. 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind, survive everyday parenting struggles, and help your family thrive. https://drdansiegel.com/whole-brain-child-handouts/


My Kids EQ. What’s your kid’s EQ? https://www.famousathome.com/what-is-your-kids-eq


Head Start Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center. Fostering emotional literacy in young children: labeling emotions. https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/mental-health/article/fostering-emotional-literacy-young-children-labeling-emotions


Uncommon Sense Parenting with Allana Robinson. Early childhood theories: Albert Bandura. 

https://www.allanarobinson.com/early-childhood-theories-albert-bandura/


Positive Psychology. How to express your feelings: 30+ emotional expression tips. 

https://positivepsychology.com/express-emotions/


Zero to Three. How to help your child develop empathy. 

https://www.zerotothree.org/resource/how-to-help-your-child-develop-empathy/


US News & World Report. How to instill a ‘growth mindset’ in kids.

https://www.usnews.com/education/k12/articles/how-to-instill-a-growth-mindset-in-kids


Neurodivergent Insights. The function of emotions: a complete guide for neurodivergent people.

https://neurodivergentinsights.com/blog/the-function-of-emotions#


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