Helping Children Understand Emotions

Posted on January 2, 2020


How do you feel?

This can be a rather challenging question for those of us who learned to mask and bury our feelings in childhood because our homes were not safe places. Being parented by adults who can’t recognize or understand their own emotions finds many of us reaching adulthood without learning to recognize and experience the full range of human emotions; in essence, we arrive in adulthood as emotional babies. It’s not a good thing, but it’s not our fault. On the other hand, the good news is that it’s never too late to learn. No matter what age one is, it’s a good age to become more emotionally literate.

As a teacher, I recognize that the #1 key to success at learning is self-control. One of the biggest obstacles to self-control is one’s lack of self-awareness regarding emotions. Such blindness to our emotional states can lead to distraction, anger, depression, anxiety, and isolation, blocking our ability to learn and feel connected to others.

One of the most important things we can do for children is to teach them about the full range of human emotions–and how to respond to them mindfully, so that they will be able to maintain self-control of their behavior and successfully navigate difficulties in relationships.

I’ve discovered a wonderful book to help readers become more emotionally literate: Exploring Emotions: A Mindfulness Guide to Understanding Feelings by Paul Christelis, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli. I checked it out from my local library, and it made me wish for a group of high school students to share it with. Yes, if I were still teaching, I would read this book early in the school year, ideally, but if not then, ANY other time to high school (or adult) students. Maybe I’d read it around Valentine’s Day if I missed it in September…my point is: this book can help anyone become more self-aware and understand how they can think through possible responses to situations that can arise, and these are two critical aspects of emotional literacy.

The publisher describes the book this way:

Everyone has different feelings about Sports Day at school. Sally feels excited, Mateo feels nervous, Manisha feels angry, Caleb feels sad, and Tom feels relieved. But they all soon discover that emotions are like the weather. Sometimes the weather feels pleasant and sometimes it feels unpleasant. But just like the weather outside, the weather inside will change too. This book on mindfulness for children helps readers build their emotional awareness, enjoy pleasant feelings, and remember that unpleasant ones will pass.

If Mindfulness practices are a part of the classroom routine already, this book will make a great read-aloud during Mindfulness time. In a literature course, this book could be introduced as a way to recognize and analyze characters, emotional tone, mood, and tension & release in texts. In a writing course, it could be used to help students become more self-aware, but also, it can help writers become more aware of the emotional content of their writing.

For parents, I highly recommend sharing this book with children. Helping children learn to recognize and navigate emotions is critical to their well-being–and to the well-being of society. Please read this book–and books like it–with your kids. It can help them understand themselves, consider the feelings of others, find good ways through relationship challenges, and find more joy in life.

Here’s a taste of the book:

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