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is Emotional Literacy and How is it Important in Managing Child Behavior in the
Classroom or at Home?
see children act without thinking. We refer to them as having poor judgement.
Underneath their behavior was a feeling state, typically an unsettling emotion.
Not knowing how to interpret or what to do with the emotion, the child seeks to
discharge it quickly in order to restore oneself to a better feeling state.
However, having acted without thinking it through, the child inadvertently makes
their situation worse by virtue of the poorly chosen behavior. This cycle
continues and the child appears out of control.
children to key in to their own feelings let alone those of others and in view
of those feelings find a way to respond reasonably can be challenging. It is
challenging for some adults too. It is as if we need to slow down the immediacy
of a response so that the feeling can be better processed or understood and the
response can then be better attuned to the situation. This is what is known as
emotional literacy to children is less about a lecture and more about the parent
or teacher engaging in the behaviors of emotional literacy through which the
child may learn observationally. The parent or teacher creates the conditions
for this incidental learning by their managing their emotions constructively
first, then empathizing with the child and next responding in a manner that is
respectful and nurturing.
these two scenarios:
teacher assigns some seat work that if not completed during class, will remain
for the student as homework.
student then appears agitated and distracted. The student fidgets and is
disruptive to another student near by. The teacher looks sternly at the agitated
student thinking to extend a non-verbal message to settle down. The
student’s behavior escalates. The teacher continues to give sterner and
sterner looks to settle down. Eventually the student is sent to the
principles of emotional literacy, upon the teacher’s recognition of the
child’s agitation, rather than a stern look which may be felt as shameful by
the student creating greater emotional distress, the teachers goes calmly to the
student and crouches beside the student. The teacher breathes slowly and quietly
exuding their calm. As the student settles, the teacher says quietly and
privately, “I noticed you appeared upset, what’s up?” The student responds
by saying she didn’t really understand the assignment and was afraid that even
if taken home, by not being able to do it, would get into trouble with parents
and teacher alike. The teacher reassures the student that she won’t get in
trouble, re-explains the assignment until clearly understood and the student
settles into work.
is after school and near dinner time. The parent is making dinner and the aroma
of the food beckons the child to the kitchen. The child is hungry and can’t
wait for dinner. The child complains and the parent tells the child to wait. The
child complains louder about their hunger and the parent sends the child to his
principles of emotional literacy, the parent realizes that the hunger of the
child is felt painfully. Instead of telling the child to wait which to the child
feels like the parent doesn’t appreciate his pain, the parent has the child
stand on a chair and help prepare the meal. The parent holds the child near with
one arm around the child’s waste and says, “I’m hungry too, it’s so hard
to be patient when so hungry. With you helping me like this, we’ll both feel
better soon.” The child settles down and they enjoy each others company
to make a dinner that now takes a bit more time to prepare, yet does feel
view of the scenarios, the onus is on the teacher or parent to first manage
their emotions constructively so as not to provoke an escalation in the child by
creating more troubling emotions. Next the teacher or parent expresses empathy
through their observation and then connects with the child to figure things out
without creating shame, blame, embarrassment or resentment. The child responds
reasonably and the underlying issue is resolved in a way that teaches how to
manage feelings constructively.
literacy in the teacher or parent is key to facilitating self-regulation in
children. Self-regulation is the ability of the child to sooth oneself when
emotionally distressed and create solutions to that are functional. In the above
examples, the student/child can learn to remain calm, express the underlying
issue and seek resolution. The teacher/parent can reinforce those processes as
observed simply by providing positive feedback in the moment or through
reflection at a later time.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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