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As a former English teacher and mother of two young children, I know literacy and storytelling can be powerful tools to support children’s development of emotional intelligence. In this blog, we will go over the importance of Emotional Intelligence and reading, provide tips for promoting emotional intelligence through books, and share some resources to help you get started.
Be sure to scroll to the bottom to download our FREE Emotional Literacy Bookmark Set. This resource is loaded with great prompts you can use while reading with children to increase their emotional intelligence and reading comprehension.
Table of Contents
Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to recognize, understand, appropriately express, and manage emotions, both in oneself and in others. These important skills lay the foundation for the development of empathy, self-awareness, self-regulation, prosocial skills, healthy relationships, effective communication, and overall well-being.
This is why supporting children’s development of emotional intelligence in early childhood is crucial. By teaching and fostering emotional intelligence from children’s earliest years, we can empower children to better navigate challenges, build resilience, and form meaningful connections with others.
So, how do we do this?
While emotional intelligence skills can be developed through daily interactions and intentional teaching, books allow kids to explore situations and experiences they may not have encountered yet, understand another person’s perspective, and explore their own lived experiences through the lens of relatable characters. Exploring emotions through stories and books invites children to reflect on their own feelings and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills along the way.
Research has shown that children who are read to at an early age develop stronger language skills, including vocabulary and grammar, which later translates into better reading and writing abilities 1.
Exposure to books and reading at a young age has also been linked to higher academic achievement in various subjects throughout their educational journey 2.
Reading aloud to children stimulates brain development, particularly in the areas responsible for language processing and comprehension 3.
Reading supports cognitive skills such as attention, memory, and problem-solving, nurturing critical thinking abilities 4.
Additionally, reading fosters emotional development, helping children understand and regulate their own emotions and promoting empathy towards others 5.
The benefits of reading to young children are abundant and far-reaching, making it an essential activity for their overall growth and success.
As a former English teacher and a mother to two young children (7 and 4), I spend at least half an hour every night actively reading with my children. This includes pointing out what I see, thinking aloud, and asking questions to activate their critical thinking skills, because I know reading with kids at a young age is the single most effective predictor of adult success.
Children’s books play a pivotal role in nurturing emotional intelligence. Through books, children meet diverse characters and encounter situations that allow them to explore a range of emotions.
Reading stories that focus on emotions allows teachers and caregivers to support children’s development of empathy, emotional identification, and perspective-taking. By engaging in discussions and reflections prompted by literature, children can enhance their emotional vocabulary and gain insights into managing their emotions effectively.
You can use guiding questions, conversations, and observations to call attention to the emotions, conflicts, resolutions, and problem-solving that happens in any story, not just the ones explicitly about emotions! Here are some tips and language samples to help you engage children in meaningful discussions while reading and foster their emotional growth:
When talking about emotions with young children (infants, toddlers, preschoolers), be sure to model what to do by:
For young children, help them use the proper terms to label emotions and feelings characters may be feeling, and point out what the characters’ bodies and faces look like that lets us know they may be feeling this way.
Tip: Describe how you identify and recognize feelings, so children can learn how you think.
"I see a big smile on this character’s face. What do you think they are feeling in this picture?"
Tip: Use visual tools to help guide young kids.
"Can you show me the face that matches how the character might be feeling?"
Tip: Ask questions to activate their brains.
"What about his/her face makes you think the character might be happy?"
Even young children can develop empathy through thinking aloud, and relatable situations. In the beginning, it can be helpful to give examples of how you may feel in a situation, before asking how they may feel.
Tip: Use relatable situations to help kids learn that other people have emotions and feelings, too!
"If I lost my toy like the character, I would feel prickly. What would you feel if this happened to you? Prickly or cozy?"
Tip: Help young children make connections.
"Can you think of a time when you or someone you know felt the same way?"
Tip: Help children practice thinking about how to show care for others through the characters and situations in books.
"What could the character's friend do to make them feel better? Could they maybe help them or give them a hug?"
Observing significant experiences or emotions the child may have experienced that day is a great anchor when connecting emotions to personal experiences. Take note and be sure to point out what you notice as it is happening and refer back to it when reading together.
Tip: Ask questions to help them connect to others.
"Have you ever felt happy/excited/sad/angry like the character in the story?"
"Can you think of a time when something made you feel similar to what the character is feeling?"
"What happened to make you feel that way? What did you do?"
Even young children can begin to solve problems! Listen and help build upon their ideas, to encourage them to develop this higher-order skill. Also, in the beginning, talking aloud and creating solutions together, and finding out if the characters in the book had the same approach are great ways to develop problem-solving skills.
Tip: Use the situations presented in books to practice identifying and solving problems.
"What do you think the character could do next?"
"What could the character have done instead?"
"What could you do to help the character feel better? What helps you feel better?"
If younger children are struggling with reflection, feel free to help them out. If you noticed a lot of reactions from children during the climax of the story, ask them if the climax made them excited.
Tip: Have children practice reflecting and expressing through the stories they read.
"What did you learn from this story?"
"The middle of the story made me feel excited! Which part of the story made you feel the most excited?"
Art and role-playing can give young children an alternative way of playing through a hard situation or expressing hard to express feelings or thoughts about conflicts. I love creating alternate reality or parallel versions of events that occur throughout the day, to allow my kids to unravel their personal problems through fictional characters. Starting with a book on a topic related to what the child is struggling with is a great way to start.
Tip: Invite children to creatively retell the story. This will allow them to personalize and understand the situation in a deeper, more personal way.
"Can you draw or paint a picture of how the character might be feeling?"
"Let's use puppets or stuffed animals to act out the story. What do you think the characters feel?"
One of the hardest parts of raising and teaching children is having to discuss tough topics. As adults, we do not want to say the wrong thing or create a traumatic, inappropriate, or ineffective conversation when children are exposed to death, bullying, anger management, or anxiety over illnesses.
If you need additional help, refer to The Ultimate Guide to Talking About Tough Topics With Young Children.
In this comprehensive guide, there are suggestions of books to use, and how to guide discussions around Tough Topics.
Dr. Donna Housman is a child psychologist who developed the ECSELent Adventures book series to aid educators and caregivers to help them support children with their emotional intelligence. Each book follows lovable and relatable characters who face challenging situations, such as death, bullying, exclusion, anger management, and anxiety. The characters solve their problems using coping strategies and prosocial skills that any child can use in their own lives. Each book includes a list of guided questions to guide caregivers and educators in further supporting the development of emotional intelligence, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills in young children.
Gilly and the Garden - a book about the sensitive topics of grief, loss, and death.
Theo’s Deliciously Different Dumplings - a book about differences, diversity, exclusion, and bullying.
The Ottersons’ Eruption - a book helping both children and adults with anger management and understanding the root of their emotions.
Riley’s Really Big Worries - a book about anxiety, germs, and overcoming fear. (Coming in fall, 2023.)
To further enhance your storytelling abilities and create impactful experiences for children, the Housman Institute offers the "Making the Most of Storytime" e-course. This comprehensive course equips educators and caregivers with practical techniques and strategies to maximize the emotional intelligence benefits of storytelling.
Book Lover's Day is August 9th! This is an ideal occasion to celebrate the joy of reading and promote emotional intelligence in young children. Encourage children to explore books that delve into emotional journeys and spark conversations about feelings. Organize reading circles, storytelling sessions, or puppet shows that focus on emotional intelligence themes. Create interactive activities such as role-playing or art projects that allow children to express and process emotions. Let Book Lover's Day be a celebration of emotional growth through literature! Here are some activity ideas we love for Book Lover’s Day:
My kids (7 and 4) love to role-play The Ottersons’ Eruption because they get to pretend to be the angry dad who lost control of his emotions. We love working together to help Dad and Hemmy calm down. Read a story together and act out your favorite parts. Maybe you can even make a new ending!
Whether it is drawing and writing out each part, or using a story generator online to help, help kids feel empowered by creating their own book!
3.) Make an origami character bookmark.
Fold your own corner bookmarks following this tutorial! You can draw any character you like. My daughter made Josie Bunny.
The library is a great way to get kids to love books. If you are unable to leave the house, digital libraries like Epic are great choices. They have books based on grade level and include options such as audiobooks for pre-readers.
One of my kids’ favorite activities is role-play library, stemming from this Bluey episode. While playing library, see what situations naturally come up, such as kids disagreeing on rules, or wanting to borrow the same books. Help facilitate problem-solving by helping them empathize with other children, and work together to find a compromise.
Set up a special spot in your house or classroom to cozy up and read together! Here are some ideas of how to make your spot extra cozy.
7.) Participate in a book trade!
Find some friends with similar interests and reading ability to trade books with or get copies of your childhood favorites to trade with your littles.
If your kids or students are able to focus on books independently, organize a child-appropriate book club! Everyone can read or look through the same book together, get together some finger sandwiches, a charcuterie board, and some apple juice and talk about the book. How did it make you feel? What was your favorite part? What happened in the beginning, middle, or end?
Here is a recording of Dr. Donna Housman reading an excerpt of The Ottersons’ Eruption on Book of Wonder. Feel free to listen to it with your kids!
Invite kids to draw a poster about a book they read, as if it was a movie poster. What feelings should the poster make the person viewing the poster feel? Excited? Scared?
Open up your favorite book with a list of items to find, such as something that makes you excited, something that makes you feel cozy, or someone who looks angry.
Child literacy and storytelling are invaluable tools for nurturing emotional intelligence in early childhood. By leveraging books and storytelling, we empower children to understand and manage their emotions, practice empathy, and develop healthy social skills. Explore the ECSELent Adventures books about tough topics from the Housman Institute and enroll in the "Making the Most of Storytime" e-course to expand your resources and capabilities as an Early Childhood Educator or caregiver. Together, let's celebrate Book Lover's Day by fostering emotional intelligence and laying the foundation for a brighter future for our children.
🖨️ Download: Emotional Literacy Bookmark Set!
About the Main Contributor: Karen Kim Chow has worked in education for 15 years. She has an MA in Education (English) from UC Irvine and a BA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside. She has experience teaching English and serving as an Instructional Coach and Instructional Designer for TK-12th grade in all subject areas including English, Literature, and Writing. She is a mother of two children (7 and 4 years old) so needless to say, there are overflowing bookshelves in every room of the house. She is an active member of the SEL Division of the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee at their school.
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