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(203) What's Emotional Literacy, and What Makes it So Powerful?

Research shows the #1 predictor of a child's future happiness and success is their emotional intelligence. But what exactly is emotional literacy, and why does it cultivate empathy, self-awareness, collaboration and problem-solving?

Today we're talking about the ability to identify our own emotions, and why you should get started with your kids.



Sara Olsher 
Hello friends, welcome to the Raising Resilience podcast. My name is Sara and I am here with Danielle Bettman of Parenting Wholeheartedly. We are talking about the protective factors for kids mental health, and one of them is emotional literacy. So in month three of the Raising Resilience Program, where we help you teach mental health skills to your kids, we are talking about identifying emotions. And so today we want to talk a little bit about why that's important. And why this is a skill that like so few of us have. Danielle, welcome. Let's get into it. 

Danielle 0:39
Yeah, thank you. And for those that don't know, I'm the parenting support coordinator for here for Mighty and Bright for the subscription. And I am a certified teacher from birth through grade three, as well as having a degree in child development. And I'm a positive discipline, certified parent educator, and a coach for my company, parenting wholeheartedly. And I am raising nine and eight year old daughters myself and applying everything we're here we're talking about here today at home. And identifying emotions was not something that my parents did with me, I don't know about you. But I can remember about sad, happy, mad, bored, or maybe the only emotion names that I could name, not only in others, but in myself for quite a long time in my life, and, you know, really opened up my awareness to just the realm of emotions at all, when I was learning the social emotional curriculum that I was going to use in my classrooms, and beginning to actually have tools that could help kids read the emotions in someone else's face and be able to identify how someone else was feeling, let alone look in the mirror and either feel, see how they were feeling or see how they were feeling, and a video or a picture or be able to address this, even with that type of face looks like when someone is feeling a particular way. It's really a whole skill set, to be emotionally literate. And to have these emotional intelligence skill sets. It's it's very, it's a lot more complicated than just being able to say I'm mad or you're upset. It's truly something that I took to heart very intentionally as a parent, when my kids were really young, we started creating like a little photo book of a different emotion on each page. And I took pictures of my girls as well as extended family members, and then put them into the pages with you know, the similar type of effect on their face, and just other names to describe happy or other names to describe upset, like disappointed or discouraged and really just trying to create this vocabulary of understanding at an early age so that they could begin to take on some of that themselves when they were going to be at an age where they could, you know, call upon those skills. But if it's not something that you were deeply exposed to, it's going to feel pretty unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

Sara Olsher 3:21
Yeah, I think for me, I don't know how many of you know, millennial, and you know, Gen X, people were raised with this level of emotional intelligence, our parents, most of them just didn't know. And I think it took me having to go through probably five years of therapy after my divorce, where I recognized that I had no idea how I was feeling. And I basically would intellectualize everything and analyze everything. And I didn't really know that I felt that there was a point necessarily to knowing how I felt and like, Why do I really care? You know, how, what my emotion is called. And it wasn't until like, three years in of me just being so I felt like a toddler. Like, I just don't want to be having this negative experience of divorce anymore. Don't stop stop. My therapist saying if you do not allow yourself to feel the emotions, they're not going away. And you have to accept like, I called the Mac, like I'm basically like, okay, fine, like everything sucks. I feel terrible. I acknowledge that this is hard, and to allow myself to I understand what that emotion was and where it lived in my body. And be brave enough to experience sadness was what finally got me through it. And it was like, when you think about divorce as being one of the biggest emotional experiences, like the most stressful things you can go through in your life, for me to have been fighting it for three years, and then finally allowing myself to feel sad. The whole thing ended in like, a week and a half or two weeks of me just being like, acknowledging, I feel sad, I feel sad and bad. And it's in my stomach, and it's in my chest. And just like allowing myself to feel it and cry, like, and then I was, like, it felt like closing the book on the divorce, like, Oh, my God, I spent three years avoiding something, you know, that? Yes, I think I just did not realize how, how powerful our feelings are, when we are stuffing them down. And when we're not identifying them, we're not allowing ourselves to feel them, you know, they just get bottled up. And that's when we are exploiting an anger that is when we are feeling anxious when we are laying our head down at bedtime, and are finally quiet. And all of these horrible thoughts are coming in, you know, worry. And, you know, it is so powerful to know what you're feeling. And that is a skill that would have served me really well. You know, in childhood and middle school when I was being bullied if I had been able to come to my mom and say, like, I am feeling X, Y and Z, and then she could have helped me work through those feelings that would have been really powerful.

Danielle Bettmann 7:01
Mm hmm. Yeah. And what a disservice to not even have the vocabulary to do that for yourself.

Sara Olsher 7:09
Yeah, I think one of the most powerful things about our months on emotions, is really giving a common language for you and your kids to be able to have discussions about these sorts of things about the emotional experience. And, you know, really just have those conversations in a way that makes sense to both you and your child.

Danielle Bettmann 7:35
Right, right. Because how can you express yourself if you don't have the language to and sometimes we just have a barrier in communication, because there is not something that I can relate to, or I can put my finger on that says like, yes, that that's what I'm experiencing, or that's how I felt before or that was what I couldn't have the words to say that I was saying, and and that's so powerful when we can finally be able to be understood, even even, you know, by someone else, but even more importantly by ourselves and just feel like, Oh, we're not, there's not something wrong with us. And we're not crazy. It's just emotions, and it's the experience of being human. How bizarre.

Sara Olsher 8:21
What a beautiful, what a beautiful point. Absolutely. It's so much of this is about being seen, and, and validating, you know, that your experience in your child's experience is acceptable. And, you know, I think this month on identifying emotions also puts a big emphasis on the fact that our emotions are all over the place going up and down every single day. And, you know, we're experiencing a bajillion different feelings every day. And because sometimes, and I think the reason why going back to that story of me, like not wanting to experience sadness, is because when you have not, like, allowed yourself to experience those emotions, the power of those feelings is terrifying. And I did not want to allow myself to feel sad, because I was worried that it would be so big that it would drown me,

Danielle 9:22
and I would it's like, I'm fooled by the undertow of the ocean.

Sara 9:25
Exactly. And what happens if I allow myself to feel sadness is such a terrible feeling and, and feel so powerful that it could go on forever? And, and so to recognize that emotions are going up and down every day, and that no feeling lasts forever? No emotion lasts forever. is a really important thing for kids to learn early, because you don't want to be me, you know, in my 30s, post divorce like Oh, Avoiding feeling sad because you think it is going to kill you.

Danielle 10:05
Right? Right. No, that's not ideal.

Sara 10:10
It also helps us to have, you know, better relationships with people and develop empathy. And I have such constructive relationships in with our friends. And when they're older with their partners, when they can connect emotionally that is how, you know, people being emotionally literate. Understanding what makes them tick. You know, having these conversations is it's so important.

Danielle 10:40
I had that reminder last night at bedtime. I sighed. And my daughter goes, Mom, are you tired? Or are you upset? She said, like, are you? Are you tired? Are you mad? And I was like, I'm just tired. I didn't get enough sleep last night. Like, and I could just like, because she could verbalize that. Then that took all any, like apprehension or hesitation she had and because then she said, Well, do you have enough energy to play stuffed animals with me? And I was able to be like, Yeah, I do. I can, you know, I can do that for five more minutes. And then we kind of, you know, negotiated but because we were able to name that. Otherwise, she might have noticed that sigh and then just like made a whole bunch of assumptions about it. Yes. And so I was just so grateful that she felt safe enough with me to be able to ask and that she's in tune with also knowing that like sighing is kind of my thing.

Sara 11:45
It's mine, too. Am I forgetting to breathe? Why do I do that? But how powerful is that? Because like you were saying she could have made a bunch of assumptions about that. And kids are all about that. They are all about making sense of the world by telling themselves stories. And if we are not filling in the blanks for them. Often those stories are about they make it about something that they did wrong, which you know, you don't want your kid to go to bed worrying that you she you she made you mad somehow. And it had nothing to do with her. Right? 

Danielle 12:19
Yeah. Absolutely.

Sara 12:23
So powerful.

Danielle 12:24
Love that. Yep. And I need more sleep apparently.

Sara 12:28
Don't we all? Yes. Well, thank you so much for being here with us to talk about identifying emotions and what the benefits are. If you have any more questions that we did not discuss, we'd be happy to talk about it again. You can ask us a question by going to mighty and and clicking on the button that says ask a question and then we will answer it for you. Thanks so much.