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Monday, 13 Apr 2020

How Emotional Literacy Helps Children Become Better Adults

By Jade Thomas
Emotional Literacy and Child Development | Private Therapy Clinic

Emotional Literacy (EL) is based on the theory of Emotional Intelligence (EI) first offered by Edward Thorndike in the 1920s. However, there is some conjecture between the use of “Emotional Intelligence” (EI) and “Emotional Literacy” (EL) in Psychology. The latter term is generally favoured in the United States, with the former being the British Equivalent. However, despite the trans-Atlantic variations, they largely refer to the same idea. The concept of Emotional Literacy (EL) covers the five variables that make up the character traits of a given individual. These are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.

The end goal of improving Emotional Literacy in children is to create a more well-rounded and better functioning members of society. Someone who’s able to navigate the waters the education, social settings, the work environment and take control of their own mental health. It’s widely believed the best place for this to start is in the pre-teen years, at the ages between 7-11, or what some people would refer to as “Key Stage 2.”

Until the present, there was limited research focused on practical intervention within a fully functioning school setting. The gap in this area of knowledge presented the oppurtunity for a tailored case-study that would explore the implications of incorporating EL within an already existing curriculum researched by Thomas, J (2019). After a six-week intense intervention within a Primary School in Buckinghamshire, involving male students, the results were clearly in favour of EL having a notable effect on classroom behaviour. The study was divided into six weekly sessions with each one focusing on a specific aspect of the Emotional Literacy model.

One of the expected findings was by placing a focus on teaching pupils these social and emotional skills, it results in better school atmospheres, more effective learning, improved behaviour, motivation, attendance and overall better grades. The rationale behind this is it had previously been suggested that just 20% of an individual’s success is estimated to be the result of their innate intelligence – defined as their ability to learn, understand and reason. The remaining 80% is based on self-awareness and the ability to successfully communicate with others.

It’s the inability to engage in self-reflection, regulate emotions and use proper social skills that are the chief factors causing students to resort to disruptive behaviour. These often-unmanageable behaviours not only impede their own progress but that of their classmates as well, indicating that it’s extra support which is needed in the way of Emotional Literacy, not punishment. This was the primary motivation behind the six-week intervention and the area that was of most interest.

The findings highlighted the fact that social and emotional learning programmes can have significant results on pupil’s attitudes in a variety of situations. Emotional Literacy can increase self-worth, empathy and other prosocial behaviours as well as lowering emotional distress. The knock-on effect of this is that individuals with a higher sense of EL, are at much less risk of developing mental health problems, such as; depressionanxietysuicideeating disorders and stress. Because of the inherent ability to build stronger relationships and integrate learning experiences, people with a higher degree of EL are able to cope with challenges and setbacks much easier than their counterparts.

This increased sense of self-esteem and inner fortitude also carries through to the latter stages of life. EL is a learned trait that becomes the baseline from which people base the lion’s share of their actions. This greater handle on controlling oneself can assist in gaining employment and also help build lasting relationships in the workplace and wider community. In fact, there is a clear link between Emotional Literacy and the ability to be an effective leader. The very nature of being a successful leader hinges on the ability to focus on the needs of the many. And that can only come from the willingness and ability to engage with others in a constructive and empathetic manner.

At the conclusion of the study period, the intervention proved to be extremely effective in improving the pupil’s self-regulation, awareness, motivation and empathy. Class teachers were able to make a clear distinction in the behaviours of those who were usually disruptive within the classroom. However, it was felt within the school that a six-week intervention period, whilst clearly beneficial, was not enough to create a lasting change in pupil’s behaviour over the long-term.

The results suggest that the sooner it’s realised that Emotional Literacy is lacking in pre-teens, the sooner interventionist strategies can be put in place to help create the necessary skills. This not only benefits the individual in question but has a ripple effect that will spread out through peer groups across also stages of life. The hope is by making these interventions in the school system that eventually, those skills will be passed on generationally by parents who view them as second-nature. This focus on Emotional Literacy will create better people, who live more productive lives and who will, in turn, create a better society.

***The article above is the result of original research conducted by Jade Thomas (2019).

About the Researcher:

Jade Thomas is a Psychological Counsellor with experience in Special Educational Needs (SEN), including, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

***If you’re struggling with mental health challenges and think you might benefit from speaking to someone about your situation, we offer a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with one of our specialists to help you find the best way to move forward. You can book yours here


Bocchino, R. (1999). Emotional Literacy: To Be a Different Kind of Smart. California: Corwin Press.

Weare, K. (2004). Developing the Emotional Literate School. London: Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd.

Wells, J., Barlow, J., & Stewart- Brown, S. (2003). A systematic review of universal approaches to mental health promotion in schools. Health Education, 103(4), 197-220.

Thorndike, E. (1920). Intelligence and its Uses. Harper’s Magazine, 140, pp. 227-235.

Blum, R., & Libbey, H. (2004). School connectedness- Strengthening health and education outcomes for teenagers. Journal of School Health, 74(7), 229-299.

Klem, A., & Connell, J. (2004). Relationships Matter: Linking Teacher Support to Student Engagement and Achievement. Journal of School Health, 74, 262-273.

Martins, A., Ramalho, N., & Morin, E. (2010). A Comprehensive meta- analysis of the relationship between emotional intelligence and health. Personality and Individual Differences, 49(6), 554-564.

Salovey, P., & Grewal, D. (2005). The Science of Emotional Intelligence. Current Directions in Psychological Science , 14(6), 281- 285.

Rathore, D., Chadha, N., & Rana, S. (2017). Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace. Indian Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(2), 162-165.

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