Teacher Well-being
begin to ECSEL

The Importance of Causal Talk in the Emotional Experience

January 11, 2018

As early childhood educators, we have a duty to arm children with the skills needed to thrive—most importantly, social and emotional competencies. A powerful way to promote social and emotional skills is through conversations focused on emotion (commonly called Causal Talk or CT), and through leveraging that talk during moments of intense emotional arousal (known as Causal Talk in the Emotional Experience or CTEE).

Housman Institute, a pioneer for training and research in early education, utilizes modeling, teacher-led instruction, and nonverbal reciprocal communication to build emotion knowledge and emotion regulation—essential components of social and emotional competence. Both CT and CTEE are core components of that instruction, adapting to the child’s needs and abilities as the child develops.  

As Dr. Housman, founder and CEO of Housman Institute, shares in her recently published article in the highly regarded International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy: “As the young child matures, this communication becomes more verbal with the teacher providing more clearly defined tasks, expectations, perspective taking, and consequence.”  Researchers Judy Dunn and Jane Brown explain that verbal emotion-focused conversations (CT) are commonly broken down into three categories: explanations of the causes and consequences of emotions; empathy-related statements; and unelaborated comments about emotions. 

Begin to ECSEL, a Housman Institute evidence-based approach, uniquely leverages CT by distinctively employing causal talk in the emotional experience (CTEE). CTEE “consists of not only identifying and labeling an emotion, but also managing intense emotions, including stress and anxiety, in the heat of the moment, when the child is in the midst of emotional arousal,” notes Dr. Housman, thus providing rich moments opportune for growth.

Dr. Housman has found that engaging in CTEE is most impactful when it occurs within the context of sensitive, attuned, and responsive caregiver-child relationships. Within these interactions, Dr. Housman stresses that “the manner in which the adult responds to the child with affective control through tone and tempo of voice, touch, and gaze helps infants, toddlers, and preschoolers learn to better manage and reduce the intensity of their emotion on the path toward self-regulation.”

At Housman Institute’s lab school, Beginnings Child Development Center, teachers frequently utilize CTEE. One essential goal of CTEE includes developing the ability to identify, and constructively express and regulate intense emotions with the aim of conflict resolution and problem solving. Applying CTEE yields tremendous long-term benefits for young children including: an increase in emotional expressiveness, emotion regulation, emotion communication, and understanding of one’s own and other’s emotions. The outcomes of emotion knowledge and emotion regulation have long been associated with self-regulation, empathy, prosocial skills, and other foundational social and emotional competencies.

Given the prolific and evident benefits of CTEE, as well as the knowledge that CTEE occurs as part of the larger framework of social and emotional competencies, we as educators, policy makers, and other influential adults must better understand how to implement Causal Talk in the Emotional Experience, a foundational component of begin to ECSEL.

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