Emotional Literacy

What is the best way for me to handle a conflict between my child and a friend during a playdate?

Help your child develop an emotional vocabulary and you will actually avoid many conflicts. It’s extremely important that your child understands their various emotions and how to express them.  This is something you can start at a very young age and then build upon. Once in Kindergarten they’ll work on taking these emotions and learning how to express them in social situations. The term to describe this understanding of their emotions is called emotional literacy. Yes, your child will be literate in many ways before leaving Kindergarten! Just as your child has to learn to read they also need to learn how to understand and express their emotions. This won’t just come naturally for all children.  Having an emotionally literate child means that your child will get along better with others and hopefully have fewer conflicts with others. Hitting or reacting violently is often the result of a child not understanding what they are feeling and knowing how to express that feeling.   A child who doesn’t understand their emotions may act out.

Now, even with a highly developed emotional vocabulary it doesn’t mean that your child will avoid all conflicts. The best thing to do is talk to your child about appropriate ways to react in conflict and options they should utilize such as using a strong voice to tell another child to stop or speaking with an adult. To minimize conflict at school have a discussion with your child about what to do if another child is bothering them. There’s no way to avoid conflict completely but if your child starts Kindergarten armed with a good understanding of their emotions and has discussed with you what to do in certain situations, they’ll be prepared when conflict does arise.

Now that I know, what can I do?

Model emotions, lable them and use “I feel statements”: Remember your child is watching everything you do. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t express your negative feelings but do make sure you are doing it appropriately the next time someone cuts you off in traffic. Name different emotions you, your child, or another family member are feeling. This is the first step towards developing an emotional vocabulary. Then have times where you say to your child, “I feel ___ because _____.” Then have your child do the same.

Role-Play: Role-play different emotions using puppets,dolls and stuffed animals. Set up scenarios and then have the puppets act out their feelings. Through this role-play incorporate situations where the puppets have to explain what they are feeling.

Ask Open-Ended Questions: Don’t just ask yes or no questions. Ask questions that require your child has to explain themselves.

Create emotion cards: This idea was featured on A Place of Our Own (great TV program for those raising young children). Have your child create emotion cards using different pictures cut from magazines or by drawing. Then use these cards to label how they feel. If you plan on doing this at home, consider using magnetic tape and placing these on the refrigerator. Allow every family member to label their emotions at different times throughout the day. Stress to your child that their emotions can change throughout the day. Rarely if ever do we wake up feeling one way and go through the entire day without ever changing our emotion.

Picture Books: My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss, Sometimes I’m Bombaloo by Rachel Vail, When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang, Mean Soup by Betsy Everitt, The Chocolate-Covered-Cookie Tantrum by Deborah Blumenthal, Today I Feel Silly by Jamie Lee Curtis and The Way I Feel by Janan Cain. Fortunately there are many books that demonstrate characters in different situations experiencing different emotions. Ask your librarian to help you find more!

Also consider:

I highly recommend reading Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson. This book is a real eye-opener and highlights how our society often robs boys of an emotional vocabulary because we want to uphold the tough guy image.  It’s a great read for those with sons.


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Filed under 4 Year Olds, 5 Year Olds, Questions

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