Emotional Literacy and Empathy – How we can support our children


Many children struggle to articulate their feelings, they will undoubtedly experience the emotions within their body but may display these feelings in a different way, ways which do not necessarily match the emotion. These children are often labelled disruptive, rude, disobedient, or have ‘anger issues,’ they can be descried as shy, disinterested, a loner, or many other unhelpful names.
These children maybe none of the above, but have issues surrounding ‘Emotional Literacy.’ Emotional Literacy is about having self-awareness and being in tune with our own feelings and emotions and knowing how to regulate them. Emotional Literacy also involves the understanding of other people’s emotions and how to respond to them in a positive way, rather than through fight or flight responses, which usually results in a negative behaviour. When we are stressed or cross, we should be able to maintain and control our feelings, dealing with them in a calm, non-threatening manner. If we have difficulty with our emotional literacy and find it hard to empathise or understand our own or other people’s intentions, we may lash out physically or verbally.
It is important that we help children to become self-aware of their emotions and learn how to deal with them in a way which is socially acceptable. Most children learn this during early childhood with emotional literacy being modelled in the family unit, which is great, unless our families are not good role models. The development of Emotional Literacy can also be affected when as child has a specific special need like speech, language and communication, ASD, ADHD and ADD. It can also be linked to children who are suffering from stress, anxiety, loss and bereavement or have confidence issues.
Teaching children emotional literacy, or guiding them as I prefer to say, can help increase children’s self-esteem, improve their happiness and keep them balanced and calm. Understanding themselves and empathising with others will enhance co-operation, positive social interactions and help them develop and maintain friendships which will further strengthen they happiness. It will have a positive impact too on their learning and the learning environment within the classroom.
Being able to put themselves in someone else’s position and understand how they feel or what they are going through is a crucial skill to develop in childhood, however it is important to add that we can all ‘learn’ the right thing to do, putting it into practise is another game entirely. Children need to value, respect and understand others, particularly when they are in disagreement.
What can we do to help?
• Face-to-face communication. Switch off the technology and engage with our children. Show them that you are listening, you care and that what they have to say is important.
• Be mindful of your workload. Being too busy or juggling jobs means that we are only half engaging.
• Talk. Ask them about what is happening in their lives, how they feel and ask them their opinions. Their opinions count, a two-way discussion will encourage them to listen to your views as well and help them see the situation differently. This works both ways!
• Develop the art of turn-taking.
• Build trusting relationships, being fair and honest.
• Develop reasoning and enquiry skills so that can learn and experience empathy within a conflict.
• Good, positive role modelling.

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