Universal Communication Aids for Emotional Literacy


by Juliet Leonard
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When was the last time you had a tantrum in the supermarket?!

As adults, we rarely fly off the handle and create a scene! We have learned, through years of knowledge, wisdom, trial, error and strategies how to recognise our emotions and those of others and to use strategies to regulate ourselves, or renew equilibrium – well, most of the time!

Emotional Literacy, the ability to identify, understand and respond to our emotions and those of others is a crucial skill required for success in so many aspects of life. With many employers valuing emotional literacy over IQ, it is one of life’s ‘soft skills’ which enables successful relationships, creates empathic and responsive leaders and accelerates performance in education and onwards in to the working world. Individuals with high emotional literacy experience increased levels of confidence and self esteem, impacting and physical and emotional wellbeing.

All children benefit from effective and appropriate ways to express their emotion.

So what communication aids can be used in the classroom, to provide a way of expressing and regulating feelings for all pupils?

  1. The Feelings chart

Children are not always able to express what they are feeling, so why they are feeling it is even more of a mystery to them. The first step to emotional awareness is for children to identify what emotion they and their peers might be feeling. An emotions face chart is a useful tool for all children in the classroom. Removing the need for a verbal description, children can use this chart to identify their emotions and those of others, providing a visual reference for an  emotions conversation.

  1. The Feeling Regulator

Encouraging children to develop an awareness of their feelings is a crucial first step. Strategies such as the ‘Zones of Regulation’, a ‘5 point scale’  or a ‘feeling thermometer’ can be a visual framework for supporting any child to identify when their thoughts and feelings might be escalating and moving beyond their control. Many of these approaches also offer opportunities for children to problem solve what action they need to take when they have reached a particular zone, thus encouraging self help skills to develop. 

  1. The Worry Box

It is easy for anxieties and problems to overwhelm children. When our minds are full this leaves little opportunity for learning and even problem solving can seem beyond capabilities. A worry box can be a useful physical way of managing emotions and offloading them. This can also create a routine for managing worries.  The box should be opened and the worries discussed at a time when the child feels ready.  It may also be useful to consider a ‘positive things’ or ‘solutions’ box, to encourage children to feel the success of their problem solving.  Worries belong in the box and can stay there if they haven’t been resolved.

It is important that visual strategies for promoting and supporting emotional literacy are introduced as a whole school approach, enabling every child to be able to access a way to express and understand emotions; a crucial skill in these ever changing times.