As social and emotional learning becomes more popular, many educators are exploring ways to develop children's emotional literacy. Salovey and Mayer define emotional literacy as "the ability to monitor one's own and others' feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions." Children can benefit in school and at home from developing a feelings vocabulary, understanding positive and negative emotions and developing empathy for others.
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Expand Emotional Vocabulary
Children's emotional language is often limited to key feelings such as happiness, sadness and anger. Developing awareness of a range of emotions can better equip children to communicate how they feel. Create feelings flashcards depicting a range of emotions and discuss situations when those feelings may arise. Provide a range of positive feelings cards for children to select, focusing on creating that feeling throughout the day.
Physical Sensation of Feelings
Research conducted by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) states that "awareness of feelings also includes the ability to identify the physical states and thoughts associated with feelings and to understand that contradictory feelings such as love and hate sometimes occur together." Encourage children to explore the physical sensation of emotion by drawing a simple outline of a person's body. Ask children to consider a strong emotion such as excitement or anger and then label where in their body they experience the feeling. Discuss whether each person's reaction to the emotion is the same and whether similar physical sensations occur for different emotions.
Positive and Negative Feelings
Teach children about a range of feelings, both positive and negative. As a child's emotional vocabulary expands, so too should his awareness that some emotions feel more constructive than others. Use art to explore how images with different colour, shape and texture can elicit both positive and negative emotions and how this can be a personal experience.
Awareness of Feelings
Encourage children to become aware of their emotional states to develop self-regulation. Children who can understand how they feel and why are better equipped to communicate and manage their emotional needs. Model emotional language and challenge children to reflect periodically on how they feel in response to specific situations. Create a feelings diary for children to reflect each day on how they felt and why.
Create opportunities for children to be empathetic and consider other people's needs. Empathy is the skill of understanding the feelings of others, which helps to create social connections and reduce conflict. Stimulate children's empathy through tasks such as caring for a pet or plant, or involve children in a form of community service that helps others. Dr. Maurice Elias states that "properly conducted community service, which begins at the earliest level of schooling and continues throughout all subsequent years, provides an opportunity for children to learn life skills, integrate them, apply them, reflect on them, and then demonstrate them." Children can develop empathy and awareness of the experience of others by giving time and effort to those in need.
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- "Emotional Intelligence"; Imagination, Cognition, and Personality; Salovey, P. & Mayer, J. D.; 1990
- "Journal of School Health"; Social and Emotional Learning: A Framework for Promoting Mental Health and Reducing Risk Behaviors in Children and Youth; John W. Payton; May 2000
- "The Educator's Guide to Emotional Intelligence and Academic Achievement: Social-Emotional Learning in the Classroom"; Maurice J. Elias; 2006