All parents strive for what is best for their children. We create safe homes, cook nutritious meals, and provide them an education. Helping them learn often starts with reading them bedtime stories from the time they are babies. Watching parents decode the words in a storybook fascinates most children and provokes them to try reading for themselves. From that moment, they begin to build their linguistic literacy.
The same process can help our children learn emotionally. When we, as parents, use name our emotions and share with our children what those emotions mean to us, our children begin to develop emotional literacy. They will try to name that “funny feeling” they have in their tummy just the way you do.
Emotional Literacy for children turns out to be just as important as math and science. Studies of future job trends reveal that emotional competence and intelligence are core skills that will be increasingly valuable because they cannot be replaced by artificial intelligence and robotics.
How can we begin? Here are five simple ways to introduce a conversation about emotions to your children:
While reading to them ask them what emotion they think the character is experiencing. But don’t stop there. Ask them to name the emotion they are feeling and share what emotion you have after reading that section.
- In your day-to-day activities include your emotion in conversation. For instance, you might say, “I’m disappointed it is raining today. I expected it would be sunny and we could go to the beach, but that isn’t how it is”. That way, they will begin to connect the emotion of disappointment with “unrealized expectations,” which is what triggers disappointment.
- When your child is struggling, ask them if they can name the emotion they are feeling. They may not be able to in which case you might suggest possibilities. “It seems like it might be frustrated because your activity is more difficult than you thought it would be,” could be an example. People, even children, can often confirm or deny an emotion once they hear it. Your child will like either say they are feeling frustration or it is not frustration, in which case you can try another emotion.
- When out in public, you might ask your child what emotion they think someone is in just by observing them from a distance. It can be a fun game to guess and talk about why they chose the emotion they did. The point isn’t to be correct but to speculate and notice how people behave in different emotions.
- You could have a conversation with your child about what emotion they like most and which they like least. A conversation about emotions build emotional literacy and makes them seem “normal.” Helping them feel comfortable talking about emotions is a big step in emotional literacy for children.
The challenge for many parents is that they have difficulty naming their emotions or putting a precise meaning to them. They never emotional training at home or in school. So, how to begin. Having a reference, a sort of field guide to emotions can be enormously helpful. It can help us name the emotion we are experiencing and distinguish it from other emotions that feel similar.
If you are committed to educating your child in all aspects of life, emotions cannot be left to chance. The place to begin is with your own emotional literacy. It is something you can build in four steps:
- Take time to NOTICE what you are feeling and what triggered it
- Try to put a NAME on the emotion you are experiencing
- Build KNOWLEDGE and understanding of the emotions you name; what are they telling you, what does it make you want to do, how is it taking care of you?
- Learn to NAVIGATE your emotions. If you are in an emotion that is not serving, you think about what emotion would be helpful and begin to strengthen that emotion.
The Field Guide to Emotions is a wonderful resource to help you with steps 2 and 3.
Enjoy your emotional learning journey and be amazed as your children mature in their understanding of their own emotions and the resource that becomes for them.