I remember chatting with my mum as a child. She’d ask ‘what’s wrong?’ and I’d say ‘I don’t know!’. Especially as a teenager, with hormones racing and the overwhelming urge to cry for no reason at all.
We can be so fixated on what has caused us to feel a particular way, especially as the ‘grown-ups’. We want to be able to sort out the ‘problems’ our children are facing…whether it be arguments with friends, not liking what’s for tea, or the more extreme situations we’re currently dealing with.
Sometimes the external problems can be fixed, but sometimes there’s nothing we can do to change them in this moment, but the emotions are still strong and challenging.
Emotional literacy is all about developing our language and conversations around the feelings we have as part of our human experience. And with that literacy, we are able to talk about emotions for what they are – emotions. Not a result of any particular situation or circumstance.
And we know this because of the way that different people react differently to situations.
As well as the way we react differently to the same situation on different days!
Here are five ways to integrate emotional literacy into your everyday life with children, as a teacher or a parent.
1. MIX-UP THE SMILES
Have you noticed how all the dolls in your house or educational setting have happy faces? Instead of defaulting to ‘smiley’, include different emotions into the faces of the paper dolls and drawings you create with the kids.
Building this in on a regular basis can facilitate discussion around what these different faces are showing about the doll or person in the picture.
And just a note that, whilst it can also be easy to default to the ‘what do you think has HAPPENED to this person to MAKE them feel that way?’ type question, try to focus just on the emotions themselves.
There are so many children’s books that unpick feelings and emotions, but even when the focus is on the events in the characters lives, we can still develop emotional literacy. Asking questions about how the characters are feeling is a great starting point.
Aim to stay focused on the feelings themselves, for example:
‘How do you think they are feeling?’
‘How can you tell they might be feeling like that?’
‘Have you ever felt like that?’
The same questions can be asked during and after imaginative play if you get the chance to observe what’s going on.
3. POSITIVE & NEGATIVE LANGUAGE
Being mindful of the language we use when talking about emotions is really important in developing the emotional literacy of ourselves and the children in our lives, so the next two posts are about language and the questions we might ask (keep an eye out for tomorrow’s post too!)
How do you describe emotions?.
We can often default to describing emotions as ‘good’ and ‘bad’, or ‘better’ and ‘worse’. What about describing all emotions as equal? This can be really tricky to start with, as we break down our associations and accept that ALL the emotions are part of human experience.
You might say ‘but it feels horrible when I feel anger/sadness/grief and I feel great when I feel excitement/happiness/joy’.
Absolutely! But instead of focusing on the good and the bad, how can we shed even more light on the motions we feel, move away from simplifying the complexity of our feelings, and accept that we are likely to feel ALL of them at some point in our lives.
This way, the fear we have around feeling the ‘bad’ emotions, won’t leave us trying to avoid feeling them our whole lives.
a. How can we normalise emotions with the questions we ask?
It is normal to want to ‘fix’ the external problem associated with a particular feeling, even when we can acknowledge that emotions and events aren’t clearly connected at all. Different people react different to the same situation, and the same person will react different to the same situation on a different day! So, instead of ‘what made you feel like that?’, how about moving to ‘how does that feel?’
b. What other questions can we ask about emotions?
Consider how you might integrate these into everyday conversations:
- ‘how do you feel?’
- ‘how do you think x feels?’
- ‘how do you know when you/x might feel that way?’
- ‘where do you feel that emotion?’
- ‘what does that emotion sound like?’
- ‘what colour would that emotion be? Why?’
- ‘when did you last feel that way?’ (taking care not to stray into the rabbit warren of what MAKES us feel a certain way)
5. THE TEMPORARY NATURE OF FEELINGS
The next time you forget what you were saying, or a child does the same, acknowledge how incredible it is that thoughts and feelings are temporary.
We can find it annoying when something is forgotten, or something gets broken, or something is lost. But, just like everything in life, everything is temporary.
Acknowledging the wonder in this can help us to also accept the temporary nature of our feelings, especially at intense and challenging times.
Note: there is a difference between this and brushing off feelings or undermining how they might feel to a child. They can feel huge and overwhelming to all of us.
But, they will pass…even for just a moment to start with…they will adapt and change over time, especially if we let them.
A wonderful poem to help explain this further is by philosopher Rumi:
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honourably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide.
For more of this in your family life, join your local mentor for Mindful Magic sessions.
To build in more of this into school life, pop us an email to arrange a call