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Developing Your Child’s Emotional Literacy By ToddlersTeensAndBetween

Today we’re joined by Gemma and Sophia; mental health and wellbeing specialists with 8+ years of teaching experience, and the faces behind Toddlers Teens And Between! They recently shared some amazing insights and tips on How To Set Up Healthy, Gentle and Firm Discipline Structures and How To Build A Growth Mindset Through Praise on our blog, and now they’re back to guide us on how you can develop your child’s emotional literacy.

So, over to you Gem and Sophia!

As parents of this new generation, it is crucial to know how a language of emotional understanding can benefit our little ones and know some affirmations to enhance their emotional feeling and understanding to develop their internal self-belief. This doesn’t just have to be you or your partner, but you can model this for your little one’s other caregivers like aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents so that we all move away from commenting on their looks to how they feel instead*!*

Just think about your most recent weekend. For us here in the UK, it was the Queen’s 70th Year on the Throne, and thus the Platinum Jubilee (otherwise affectionately known as the ‘Platty Jubes’) which was a 4-day weekend celebration full of jubilation and togetherness and community celebration. There were also moments of stress and frustration as our little ones didn’t want to leave the parties. There were moments of exhaustion and overwhelm as we withdrew for a quiet minute after long social interactions. There were even moments of low sadness as we saw the highlight reel of different parties and events we weren’t at and experienced that wily Instagram emotion: the ‘fear of missing out’. That’s a lot of highs, lows and middles to have gone through over just four days!

Gemma and Sophia from TTAB

So, when thinking about the concept of ‘emotional literacy’ we as parents must acknowledge the plethora of different emotions and emotional states both our children and us too can experience in a day, an hour or even the space of 5 minutes sometimes! This is completely normal and we as adults can model how to handle and release our emotions in a healthy way: ‘Mummy is just sitting on the sofa for 10 minutes with my eyes closed because I’m feeling overwhelmed from all the chatting and noise, and I’m just going to do some deep and calm breathing and have some quiet time to myself.’ When we model a coping technique to an emotional feeling, we teach our children to know it is healthy to feel, handle and release their feelings.

Moreover, to teach emotional literacy from a young age we need to help our children be aware of the names of the many different emotions. The best way to do this is to be sure to name emotions as they happen and include your little ones in trying to name them. Labelling emotions leads our children to understanding their feelings and helps to normalise their feelings. Try reading Anna Llenas’ ‘The Colour Monster’ at bedtime, or do some acting games where you let your child copy you as your dramatise different emotions using your facial and body expressions. By commenting on the combination of emotion and body language, ‘Oh wow, you look happy with that big smile on your face!’ or ‘You look angry because your jaw is clenched and your fists are tight’ in turn, we help our little ones start to make the connection between their body and behaviours and their emotions.

Mum and son playing on floor in the sunshine.

As well as labelling emotions, we want to give little ones a confident internal voice from a young age! We all wish for our little ones to exhibit the most wonderful character traits like being ‘kind’, ‘loyal’, ‘thoughtful’ and ‘brave’ but, instead of just wishing this for them, we need to get them hearing it, repeating it and in turn believing it! Use positive affirmations at different moments of the day by creating a game as part of your morning and bedtime routine. You could first start by saying it to them and allowing them an opportunity to repeat it back to you: ‘You are confident! Can you say, “I am confident”? Can you show me you are confident with your body? What does this look like for you?’. Perhaps stand in front of the mirror and come up with a gesture to go along with the adjective you’ve both chosen! Repeated affirmation sets your little ones up with a sense of internalised self-belief!

Finally, currently, our culture obsessively praises and values external features , but we want all our children to grow up knowing they are worth more than just what they look like! It’s important to be mindful of the way we comment on our children’s looks as this can impact their self-esteem as they grow older. At that little toddler age, little ones are exploring their bodies and becoming more confident and able and so it is good to acknowledge the things that their bodies can do explicitly. Comments like, ‘Wow! Look how your body can bend that way, you’re so flexible!’ will help them become aware that they are in control of how their body can move and how wonderful their bodies are for what they can do! Babies who are still developing their range of movement can always be praised for their effort in trying to move their bodies ‘Wow look at you holding on to the couch and moving your body up and down.’ Model praising smartly for grandparents by implementing the ‘1:1 Rule’ we like to do - for every 1 external compliment give an internal 1 too. This can sound like, ‘You are so handsome today, and you are being so caring. I love you!’ or ‘Wow you look beautiful this morning and you are being so helpful!’ We are valuing character traits as beautiful too!

We’ll end with our ToddlersTeensAndBetween Top Tip: Allowing them to hear it and repeat it will help them believe it!

By Gemma Arnold and Sophia Ziff - at ToddlersTeensAndBetween

Subscribe to ToddlersTeensAndBetween’s The Younger Years Course’ for parents of 0-6 year olds and access strategies and support for the behaviour and wellbeing of your baby, toddler and early years child or book a Bespoke 1-1 Support Session and receive tailored advice, approaches and tips to improve the mental health, behaviour and wellbeing of your toddler, teen or between. For more, follow ToddlersTeensAndBetween on Instagram and Facebook too.

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