How can I support my child’s emotional literacy?

Emotional literacy is the ability to understand, express and cope with emotions. It’s a skill that children will develop as they grow, but can also be nurtured throughout childhood. There are lots of ways to help your child develop in this area.

Label their emotions for them

Accept their emotion and label it for them. For example, you could say “You seem so excited” or “You’re crying, you must be sad”.

When children learn the words for their emotions, they can tell you what they’re going through. This means they’re less likely to use their behaviour to show how they are feeling.

Use games to explore emotions

Try playing games to help to help your child understand different types of emotions.

  • If your child is still a baby, play ‘Feelings Peekaboo’. Every time you show your face, use a different expression and say the word out loud.
  • If your child is a little older, explore expressions with crafts or cooking. Using paper plates to create masks or puppets, or make faces with playdough or homemade pizza.
  • Play ‘Simon Says’ to get your child to show you what they understand about different emotions. You could say, ‘Simon says look worried’ or ‘Simon says show me how you’d feel if you won a game’.
  • Play ‘Feelings Charades’. Act out different emotions. Or get older children to act out an event that would make them feel that emotion.
  • Make a playlist and talk about how music makes you feel. Songs like ‘Adagio in G Minor’ by Albinoni and ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ by Handel evoke strong emotions. Ask your child to tell you what emotions they think the songs are trying to convey.

Help them express themselves

As your child grows, encourage them to express their emotions in a positive way.  Try asking questions like “How can you let me know you’re angry without hitting?” or “Can you think of a different way to let me know you’re frustrated?”

For older children, talk to them about how to handle emotions. Help them see why they’re feeling a certain way. See our article on helping them understand how thoughts affect feelings.

Give them tools for managing emotions

Teach your child ways they can cope with more difficult emotions. You could try:

Use books and TV to help them understand others

Use books and TV to help your child learn how other people feel emotions. Use them as starting points for discussions about different emotions. Some resources include:

Ask questions to teach empathy

When reading, watching or playing, ask questions about how the character might feel. You can also do this when talking about school and friends. This can help your child empathise with others.

Questions could include:

  • “How do you think they feel?”
  • “How would you feel if that happened to you?:
  • “How do you think your friends felt when that happened?”

Show empathy in your own actions

Be with your child when they have difficult emotions. Find ways to show that you want to understand. This could include:

  • Offering eye contact.
  • Giving them a hug.
  • Saying soothing words.

Stay calm and practise self-care

Show your child how you take cope with more difficult emotions, and they will learn from you. Let them know what you’re doing as you’re doing it. For example, you could say “I’m feeling tired today so I’m going to go for a walk outside”. See our article on self-care for parents.

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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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