It’s easy to forget sometimes that emotional literacy is not something that comes naturally to most people. Some people can pick up on the subtle emotions behind their choices, perceptions, and feelings. But more often than not, emotional literacy needs to be taught.
The teenage years are some of the most emotionally challenging, and it is important to teach your teen how to understand and respond appropriately to their emotions.
Here are a few vital things to keep in mind as your child becomes a teenager.
What is emotional literacy?
Emotional literacy, or emotional intelligence, is the ability to recognize, understand, and share emotions appropriately. Successful, healthy communication is grounded in emotional literacy.
Emotional literacy helps teens avoid risky behavior, make and keep friends, take responsibility for their actions, and forgive themselves and others.
Why is it important?
Emotions are incredibly complex, and while the basics—anger, sadness, happiness—are understood by even the youngest child, the nuances need to be taught. Being able to distinguish between anger and frustration, confusion and fear, enthusiasm and joy, will make communicating much more enabling and fulfilling.
Once teens understand all of the subtlety behind their feelings, they will be able to express themselves as adults and better control both their words and their actions.
For example, understanding that feelings of jealousy, betrayal, or loneliness are behind apparently overwhelming anger can help them to resolve their feelings quicker and without conflict. In contrast, thinking simply that they feel angry could lead to rash decisions, verbal or physical conflict, and emotional frustration.
How can it be taught?
In most cases, teaching your teen emotional literacy comes naturally. Disciplining him for talking back or fighting with his siblings will help him understand which displays of emotion are inappropriate. But it must go farther than that.
Communicate clearly and specifically about emotions with your teens. Talk to them not only about how certain actions or words are wrong or disrespectful, but about why they might have chosen to speak or act in such a way. Give them a chance to explain themselves.
Sometimes, if they are given the space to “talk it out,” they will start to notice deeper, more subtle feelings behind their actions. After they have started to understand that they are feeling more than just anger or sadness, they will be able to use that knowledge in the future to shape their actions and relationships with others.
If your teen struggles with emotional literacy, sometimes, teaching him at home is not enough. Licensed therapists have studied emotions and actions for years, and they are well equipped to work with your teen.
Consider sending your troubled teen to a weekly therapy or counseling group where he can learn how to better express himself. Therapeutic boarding schools are another option, where teens can spend a few weeks at a time away from home, learning from and with peers who struggle with the same emotions they do.
Incorporate it naturally
Sometimes, sitting down with your child and talking to him specifically about his feelings or sending him to therapy or school can be just what he needs. But the majority of their emotional literacy will, in most cases, come from everyday interactions.
Be open with your feelings, and your teen will probably follow your example. From the time he is young, teach him through stories and literature (from Doctor Seuss to Shakespeare) about why certain characters act and feel the way they do.
Incorporate discussions of emotions into family time, in the classroom, and in casual discussions about school, work, or their social lives.
Understanding his feelings and how to express them will help your teen excel in their personal lives and relationships, improve his opinion of himself, and develop a compassionate, mature worldview.
The more you understand about emotional literacy, the more you will be able to teach your children and ensure that their emotional development matches their physical and intellectual growth.
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