Emotional Literacy

With TCK families across the world facing school closures in response to COVID-19, UFM Worldwide has compiled some articles, helpful tips and recommended resources. We pray that you will find these useful as you navigate these difficult times, keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus.

This third issue is aimed at emotional health, and is written by Rebecca, UFM’s Volunteer Educational Psychologist.


“I’ve never heard of emotional literacy! What’s it all about?”

Put simply, emotional literacy is the ability to recognise, understand, handle and appropriately express our emotions.
There are two aspects:
  • Personal competencies: self-awareness, self-regulation and motivation
  • Social competencies: Empathy and social skills
Self-awareness is being able to know our feelings and the thoughts involved in these.  It includes recognising how our body responds to different feelings, how we express our emotions verbally and non-verbally and being aware of the difference between feelings and actions.

Self-regulation is the ability to manage our emotions and to be able to respond to and handle strong feelings appropriately.  Children who can do this well are able to express anger appropriately and handle stress better.

Motivation – Children with higher levels of motivation have improved concentration and motivation towards goals and decreased impulsiveness.

Empathy is the ability to see how another person is experiencing the world.  This includes the ability to ‘read’ others’ facial expressions and to recognise how we affect others and their emotions.

Social skills are vital in order to get along with others.  We need to be able to understand and appreciate friendship, learn turn taking and sharing skills, resolve conflicts and disagreements and learn to negotiate and work well with others.

“Why are schools in the UK bothering to teach emotional literacy?  Aren’t there better things they could be doing?”

Research has shown that when emotional literacy skills are taught, children show improvements in recognising and naming emotions and have a better understanding of the causes of feelings and behaviours. It also helps them to have better listening skills, improved relationships and anger management skills. It also gives them raised self-esteem, wider skills for solving conflicts, improved sharing and turn taking skills and better understanding of others.   Who wouldn’t want these for their children?!

“My children are TCKs so they don’t need lessons in emotional literacy like children in the UK do.”

TCKs face many challenges that are the same, e.g. making friends, resolving conflicts, managing emotions and sharing with others.  But there are also some different challenges: living in another culture; repeated cycles of loss and separation; making new friends and saying goodbye to others; frequent moves between host country and passport country; different cultural expression of different emotions.  There are lots of emotions for TCKs to recognise and process – and we want to help them do it well.

“But we’re Christians.  Do we really need this?”

  • God created us to have emotions and to feel, our emotions provide a window into our hearts. However, the Fall means that sin has marred our emotions. In the new creation, our emotions will be made perfect.  In the meantime, they are being sanctified as we are being made more like Jesus, but we all need help to manage them as God intends.

  • We are to bring all our emotions to the Lord.  Just read through the Psalms to see how the psalmists did this.

  • We are called to love one another.  To do this as God wants us to, we need to be able to listen, show empathy and interact well with others.

“My children have never had any lessons about things like this.  Is it too late?”

It’s never too late!  Some of these skills will come more intuitively to some children than others through their interactions with their parents and other adults and children.  Some children will find some aspects harder than others.

Parents may find it helpful to work through a more formal curriculum containing lesson plans for different areas of emotional literacy (see resources below).

You may prefer to incorporate aspects of emotional literacy into everyday activities. For example:

  • Reading stories and talking about how characters feel

  • Playing board games/ card games – helps with sharing, turn taking, losing and winning

  • Role play – practising different scenarios and what to say

  • Setting goals and working towards a motivating reward

  • Talking about things others do and how they might be feeling

  • Watching video clips and analysing how characters respond in different situations. How could they have done things differently?

  • Labelling feelings – your own and your child’s –  to give emotions a wide vocabulary

  • Teach ways of managing stress, anger and other strong emotions

Most importantly, show your children how we can bring all our feelings to God in prayer.

“Are there resources out there I could use?”

Early Years/ preschool (under 5s)

Primary age (5-11)

Secondary age (11-16)

For adults to learn more about a biblical perspective on our emotions