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Emotional Literacy: The importance of identifying and labeling feelings for children and parents

Updated: May 18, 2020

One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to talk about feelings. This will help your child develop emotional literacy. Emotional literacy is the skill of being able to appropriately identify and express feelings. Developing a child's emotional literacy is key in helping them be able to self-regulate, increase resiliency and empathy as well as form positive relationships.

So where do you start?

1. Read books to your children about feelings so they can start understanding the vast spectrum of feelings including what they look like, sounds like and feel like in the body.

2. Verbalize your child's feelings and then check in with them to see if that is correct. This helps them be seen but also own their feelings and give room for correction to empower them. i.e.- "You look frustrated trying to open that box. Is that true? Are you frustrated?"

3. Model talking about feelings. Children are sponges and you are their number one teacher. Say how you're feeling out loud and often. "I'm disappointed that the bank is closed." Make sure to always start with "I feel.." and not, "You made me feel..." This is an opportunity to say how you're feeling without losing control of yourself and avoiding blame, shame and/or guilt. In a recent study, it has been proven that once you identify and label a feeling out loud, the intensity of the feeling diminishes. Bonus points because you will feel better too:)

4. Use a feelings chart and daily check ins to normalize talking about feelings. Checking in on a regular basis will be really helpful so that when strong and/or uncomfortable feelings do arise, your kids are used to talking about feelings with you. You can do the activity called Rose, Bud, Thorn at dinner every night. This is a great way to for the whole family to talk about feelings as well as get some insight on what’s on with your child’s mind.

5. Accept and validate your child's every feeling. There are no bad feelings just uncomfortable ones. This does not mean you allow physical aggression or rude behavior that can come along with uncomfortable or strong emotions. It is so important to establish and teach appropriate coping skills such as taking belly breaths or taking a break in the calm down area. These coping skills need to be taught when your child is calm and practiced on a regular basis so they can access those skills when experiencing a strong emotion. It is also important to remind your child in a calm voice, “It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to be mean or hit.”

6. Ask the following questions when reading a book, watching a movie/video/show, or in a real life situation. This will help them not only identify feelings but also develop empathy.

“How do you think he/she is feeling?”

“How can you tell?”

“How would you feel in this situation?”

7. Get support. Establishing new norms and bringing the conversation of feelings in your home can feel inspiring but also challenging. If you, your children or your family as a unit need more support, I'm here for you. Get in touch for a free 15 minute consultation today.

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