Make a point to stop and ask children and youth "How are you feeling?" ... and take time to listen to what they have to say. After all, feelings and emotions play an important role in shaping a person's behavior, interactions with others and concentration. In addition, when we take the time to ask about feelings, we are communicating that we care. Finally, children report that they enjoy talking about their feelings.1
Emotional literacy is the ability to identify, understand and respond to emotions in oneself and others in a healthy way.2 Children who have a strong foundation in emotional literacy are mentally healthier, enjoy positive relationships and do better academically.
Teaching children to recognize, label and talk about their feelings is one of the core competencies of social and emotional learning (SEL) (see www.casel.org). Currently, all 50 states have preschool SEL standards and many states have SEL integrated in their academic standards.3 Embedding strategies that foster SEL help children recognize feelings, control impulses and develop important skills for developing and maintaining healthy relationships.
The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASAL, www.casel.org) and the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL, www.csefel.vanderbilt.edu) provide a wealth of user-friendly materials for school personnel and families on how to promote social and emotional learning – including how to help children talk about their feelings.4
1 Bazyk, S., & Bazyk, J. (2009). The meaning of occupational therapy groups for low-income youth: A phenomenological study. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 6, 69-80.
2 Joseph, G., Strain, P., & Ostrosky, M. M. (2005). Fostering emotional literacy in youth children: Labeling emotions – What Works Briefs #21. Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) (2009). Retrieved from http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/briefs/wwb21.pdf. Also, see the Training Kit #21. Retrieved from http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/kits/wwbtk21.pdf
3 Durlak, J. A., Domitrovich, C. E., Weissberg, R. P., & Gullotta, T. P. (Eds.) (2015). Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning: Research and Practice. Guilford Press. See http://www.casel.org/sel-handbook
4 CSEFEL. Teaching your child to: Identify and express emotions. Retrieved from http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/familytools/teaching_emotions.pdf