Without adult support, young children are less likely to develop the ability to recognise and respond to their own and others’ emotions. The best way to teach children about emotions is in context. Reading stories or engaging children in conflict resolution are meaningful ways to teach children about negative emotions. Managing positive emotions for some children can be equally challenging when they get over-excited about a new activity or a special visitor. Discussing children’s behaviour at this time can be a useful way to help them manage these potentially disruptive behaviours. The key to fostering emotional literacy is to model, coach and provide opportunities for practice.
Scenario: Brianna and Harrison have been busy playing with the playdough. When Harrison realises there is no extra playdough to add to his construction he slams his hands down on the table. Noticing that this has startled Brianna, an educator approaches and reassures her, explaining that people sometimes do this when they are feeling frustrated. The educator sits down to talk to Brianna and Harrison about their feelings, why they might feel this way, and what they or others could do to help.
Demonstrate to the children that you understand how they are feeling. Recognise and verbalise children’s emotions (e.g., ‘I can see from your frown that you might be feeling a bit sad. Would you like to tell me why you feel this way?’)
Recognise and help children express feelings without judgement. Support children to help control their emotions or explain other children’s actions (e.g., ‘Lizzie stamped her foot on the ground. Sometimes people do that when they are frustrated’).
Model positive interest, and foster empathic interest for and among children. This might include modelling appropriate concern when a child is hurt or distressed, but also showing an interest when they are engaged and excited. Encourage children to communicate with each other around their emotions as well, involving them in the interaction and encouraging them to talk to each other (including asking questions and responding to these).
Help children learn about emotional self-regulation through books, songs and art. Preschoolers do not often talk about emotion in the abstract, but do so readily when reading books (e.g., The Feelings Book, Eggspressions) or through felt stories or imaginative play or when creating artwork. To ensure that emotions are meaningful and understood they need to be both relevant and contextual (e.g., one child may have a parent in hospital so you turn home corner in to a hospital). Download support visuals that depict emotions (PDF)
Demonstrate an awareness of individual differences. Address diversity and differences positively through displays, books and other resources. Provide non-stereotyped materials and role models (e.g., building and construction books that include women).
This principle and associated practices are referenced in the following sources of evidence in the EYLF: