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Building Emotional Literacy

Written by Quah Soo Li

“The goal shouldn’t be to teach kids how to ‘control’ their feelings. The goal should be to give them space to feel”  

~Katie Hurley, LCSW 


The narrative of a child who screams and cries and displays bouts of aggressive behaviours when he/she is upset is a common one. These children often behave the way they do because they struggle to comprehend the overwhelming emotions that they feel. As caregivers, we can help them make sense of their world by giving them the vocabulary and language to understand what they are feeling – in other words, we can help them build emotional literacy.  

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Emotional literacy is the ability to understand and identify your own feelings as well as that of others. The benefits are plenty.

An emotionally literate child is more likely to: 


  • Be physically and mentally healthier 

  • Be more resilient 

  • Get better grades at school 

  • Be better at expressing themselves 

  • Have more friends 

  • Form stronger friendship bonds 

  • Have fewer disagreements with their peers 

  • Be better able to tolerate negative feelings (e.g. frustration, disappointment, anger, etc.) 

  • Be better at soothing themselves  

  • Be less impulsive 

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To help your child develop emotional literacy, caregivers can:  


  • Label your child’s feelings often 

  • Acknowledge all feelings without judgment 

  • Talk openly about your own feelings and experiences. 

  • Model regulation by doing and labelling what you do. For example, caregivers can say “I’m feeling very angry and need to take some deep breaths” before proceeding.  

  • Discuss how others (e.g. a classmate, a peer, characters in storybooks) are feeling 

  • Play funny faces in the mirror and describe each other’s face using feeling words 

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Quah Soo Li is a certified Positive Discipline trainer and conducts training for parents and early childhood educators. She has a Masters in Clinical Psychology and has been working with preschoolers and children in the last decade.  If your child has any issues with anxiety, emotional regulation and behavioural difficulties, do reach out to us! In-person therapy services are based in sunny Singapore but we are happy to consult you wherever you are!

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