Promoting Emotional Literacy

In my previous post, I encouraged parents to be comfortable when their children express sadness. In today’s post, I would like to expand that to encourage parents to appreciate the value of emotional literacy, the subject of an excellent book by Claude M Steiner, Emotional Literacy; Intelligence with Heart.

How to understand emotional literacy

Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher, Mother and Grandmother

The following is a well-written summary from Wikipedia:

Emotional Literacy is made up of ‘the ability to understand your emotions, the ability to listen to others and empathize with their emotions, and the ability to express emotions productively. To be emotionally literate is to be able to handle emotions in a way that improves your personal power and improves the quality of life around you. Emotional literacy improves relationships, creates loving possibilities between people, makes co-operative work possible, and facilitates the feeling of community.

Steiner breaks emotional literacy into 5 parts:

  1. Knowing your feelings.
  2. Having a sense of empathy.
  3. Learning to manage our emotions.
  4. Repairing emotional problems.
  5. Putting it all together – emotional interactivity.

Children grow and maintain emotional health when their emotions are accepted and they are helped to identify the specific names of those emotions in themselves and in others. Honoring all emotions can lead children to increased empathy as well as the ability to manage their own emotions.

When emotions are honored, children grow emotionally.

Because emotions are accepted and acknowledged, those with emotional literacy can share with each other, respect each other and eventually problem-solve together. Aren’t these qualities we want in our children?

I remember explaining to my then three-year-old daughter when she could not understand how she could feel happy and sad at the same time that there was a word for that – ambivalent. There were many times that she would share with me that she was feeling ambivalent, which was quite an interesting vocabulary word for a young child. Yet it helped her understand that she didn’t just have to identify one feeling she was having at any given moment.

Being able to have a name for feelings and being able to share that with others frees a child—and actually all of us— to better explain who we are in any given moment and to connect with others who can understand what each feeling is like.

How can we identify our feelings?

Because many of us have not had our own feelings identified and accepted, it can take some effort to learn how to identify specific feelings, especially those that are considered to be less pleasant and less acceptable.

Readers can start by looking at some of the feelings lists available online, such as the list at  A shorter list can be found at includes sketches of faces showing how an expression might look.

Teaching kids about the variety of emotions we human beings can experience, helping them learn to identify feelings in themselves and in others, and honoring all emotions felt by members of the family enhances each child’s and adult’s emotional and relational health.

Readers are encouraged to look over the list of emotions, see which ones they understand and appreciate and which ones they can identify in themselves and in their children. For those they don’t know or have not been allowed to experience their feelings, they can learn to open up their minds to being more literate emotionally.

Invitation to reflect:

  1. How emotionally literate are you? To what extent do you recognize your emotions and those of others? How free are you to express your emotions in a healthy way?
  2. How do you respond when your children express their emotions? Do you encourage them to have emotional literacy??
  3. What are some ways you can increase your own emotional literacy and that of your children?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network