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How can I support my child's mental health and develop their emotional literacy skills?

What is emotional literacy?

Has your child ever come over to you and given you a hug when you felt sad? Perhaps they have offered you a sweet from their bag because you looked tired. Maybe, when you went to visit a friend and your child rightly pointed out that you were excited. All these examples are your child demonstrating emotional literacy.

In short,

emotional literacy gives us the ability to recognise, understand, handle and appropriately express emotions; it is what motivates a child to care, and it all starts by tuning into feelings. Identifying, understanding, and expressing emotions leading to activate empathy.

Although some children are instinctively in tune with their feelings and emotions, and are able to deal with new or different situations and people more easily, others may need a bit more help.

Learning and developing emotional literacy can start as early as toddlerhood and carries on throughout our lives as we develop our emotional intelligence and learn to adapt to new environments or situations.

As a trusted adult, parent or care-giver, you are a huge influence in the development of a child's emotional literacy. Here are some simple ways you can support them everyday,

Label their emotions

Although young children are very forthcoming with expressing how they are feeling, which may result in crying, stomping, yelling, giggling and a thousand other things, they are not instinctively able to label what the feeling is and why they feel that way. As trusted adults, it is our job to support children in labelling their feelings and validating that emotion.

We can do this by simply stating what we see.

It may look something like this,

"I can see that your fists are clenched and you have been shouting. I wonder if you're feeling frustrated because you were asked to stop playing that. I would feel frustrated if someone asked me to stop too.'

Identifying an emotion and labelling it in this way can help children give a word to the way they are felling. In this example, the child's emotions are being identified, a possible reason given for the emotions and then a statement of empathy.

When we label a child's feelings and emotions often enough, we are providing them with the framework and vocabulary, AKA the emotional literacy, to tell us how they are feeling.

Play games

Games are always a great way to reinforce learning, whether it be maths, English or emotional literacy!

Here are 3 activities you can try with your 5-11 year olds to develop their emotional literacy skills

1) Create a face

Use play dough to create faces depicting different emotions. For younger children, use flashcard pictures, or ask them to pull a face in the mirror first for inspiration, then discuss what features they have included.

With older children, challenge them to represent more complex emotions such as jealousy or loneliness and encourage them to describe what facial expressions we might see in these cases. Perhaps you can ask them when they have seen these expressions before in real life. Were they on themselves or another? What were the circumstances?

2) Freeze frame

This is a fantastic drama game to play with primary aged children and beyond.

Provide the children with a scenario, this may be from a story they are familiar with or a random every-day scenario. Make it as real or silly as you like.

For example,

  • You have just gone to the shop to buy your favourite sweets and they have run out. Freeze Frame!

  • The mouse has just seen the Gruffalo for the first time. Freeze Frame!

  • You have just laid eyes on the best swimming pool you have ever seen in your whole life. Freeze Frame!

3) Create Artwork

Draw a picture or make artwork with a friend to show what it means to be a good friend.

Encourage your child to label the feelings and actions of the people in the pictures.

Books and media

Over the past few years, the number of resources available to support children and young people with the development of their emotional literacy has sky rocketed. There are books, websites, TV shows and movies all with the central theme of emotional literacy.

Below are some of our top-pick books for 5-11 year olds,

Early Years

The Lion Inside

Perfectly Norman

The Day the Crayons Quit

The Colour Monster


9+ years

The Boy at the Back of the Class

The Worries

Be Your Own Superhero


A Different Sort of Normal

The week beginning the 6th February 2023 is Children's Mental Health Week.

Each year, Place2Be hosts Children's Mental Health week in order to raise awareness of the unique issues children and young people face in a ever-changing world and to ensure that children should not face mental health problems alone.

If you feel that you or your child could benefit from their free support, or you want to find out more about how you can get involved in Children's Mental Health Week, visit their website to access their free resources.


If you want to put your child's emotional literacy first, we have a bespoke online course that begins with the first principal that children can't do their best learning if they aren't feeling emotional secure.

Emotions First is built around Emotional Literacy. This is a person's ability to recognise, name, and express feelings.

At My Primary Tutor, we take it a step further by looking at why they feel these emotions and how we can make these feelings more positive.

Our Emotions First programme helps pupils to build confidence and think and feel more positively about their learning. When they believe, they really can achieve!

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