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Making the Most of Storytime: Using Children's Books to Teach Emotional Intelligence

February 16, 2023

In this blog, you will learn step by step how to teach young children about emotions using storybooks, see recommendations on books about feelings, and be able to download an infographic summarizing how storybooks support children and their emotional intelligence.

As caregivers and educators of young children, we are responsible for nurturing their development while guiding them through challenging experiences and the feelings that come with them. As daunting as this may seem at times, you don’t need to look past your bookshelf for a little support.

Storybooks are a powerful visual tool that can help children safely explore different social and emotional experiences while learning important skills including emotional intelligence, self-awareness, empathy, and problem-solving.  


  1. Teaching Emotional Literacy at Storytime
  2. Why Using CT Matters When Reading with Children
  3. Building Emotional Intelligence in Three Steps
    1. Step 1: Building Emotion Vocabulary
    2. Step 2: Reflection
    3. Step 3: Building Social Competence
  4. How Stories Build Empathy and Perspective-Taking Skills
  5. Teaching Problem-Solving Through Reflection
  6. Storybooks to Help Teach Emotional Intelligence
  7. Downloadable Infographic

Teaching Emotional Literacy at Storytime 

emotion is the universal first languageWe all share the universal first language of emotions, but identifying, understanding, expressing, and regulating these emotions needs to be taught just like reading and writing. Storytime is the perfect opportunity to engage in conversations about emotions with children and help strengthen their emotional intelligence skills. These important conversations about emotions are what we refer to as Causal Talk, or CT. 

Why Using CT Matters When Reading with Children 

Engaging in CT while reading books helps guide children to accurately identify and understand the different emotions, causes, and behaviors of characters. When we prompt children to consider more constructive ways that characters can express and regulate their heightened emotions, you are also modeling strategies that children can use in their own lives.  

In many ways, reading stories is its own form of emotional regulation for children. They can find comfort in storybooks, resonate with the feelings and experiences of characters, and learn important ways to solve problems on the path toward feeling better.  

The world of big feelings can be a scary place for children, but storybooks can help them feel seen and understood. They are not alone in these experiences, and if characters can find a way to cope, so can they. 

Building Emotional Intelligence in Three Steps 

You may be wondering how to start these conversations about emotions organically during story time and what this looks like. Well, when reading books with children, we can guide them to learn the skills of emotional recognition, identification, understanding, expression, and regulation by using CT strategies while following three key steps:  

Step 1: Building Emotion Vocabulary.

Labeling different emotions helps children connect emotions to their names while also helping them recognize the facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language associated with different feelings. 

Build Emotion vocabulary

What Does This Look Like? 

While reading a story, call attention to the visual cues of different characters and prompt children to identify what they might be feeling.

I see tears in this character’s eyes and a big frown on their face. What do you think they are feeling?”

Step 2: Reflection.

Thinking about what causes emotions to happen helps us better understand them. Prompting children to reflect on what is making them feel a certain way helps their development of cause and effect between what happened and their behavior.  

Help kids to reflect

What Does This Look Like? 

While reading a story, ask questions that support critical thinking and cause and effect related to the characters’ emotions. Then, connect children's responses back to their own emotional experiences to strengthen emotional understanding and empathy.

What do you think happened to make the character feel sad?” 

💬“Has anything like this ever happened to you? What did that make you feel?” 

Step 3: Building Social Competence.

Being able to reflect on our emotions, how we have expressed them, and what helps us manage them opens the door to empathy — an important skill that allows children to better understand the emotional experiences of others. With this foundation, children are better able to problem-solve in social situations, compromise, and consider what might help others feel better. 

Build social competence

What Does This Look Like? 

While reading a story, call attention to the characters’ emotional expressions and behaviors. Ask children about appropriate emotional expressions and what might help the characters feel better based on their own experiences. Then, discuss how characters can solve the problem while giving them agency over thinking of solutions.

Is running away and hiding an okay way to let others know we are feeling sad? What could the character do instead?” 

💬“What do you think the character could do to feel better? What helps you feel better when you feel sad?” 

How Stories Help Build Empathy and Perspective-Taking Skills  

Storybooks allow children to explore different perspectives, conflicts, and resolutions that strengthen their real-life problem-solving skills by teaching them empathy, negotiation, compromise, and coping strategies. When you read about diverse characters and experiences that both mirror children’s lives and teach them about new perspectives, children feel seen by characters with similar experiences and learn perspective-taking and empathy from characters who are different. This validates their feelings and experiences and strengthens their social competence. 

Teaching Problem-Solving Through Reflection 

Storybooks can also be used to help children reflect on their own emotional experiences and process how they react and deal with challenging social interactions. The ways that characters in storybooks solve problems, resolve conflicts and manage their emotions teach children about regulation strategies that they can use in their own lives.  

So, why not make the most of every story time? Ask questions about what problems book characters are facing, what they felt, how they reacted, and how they solved the problem. Ask if children have experienced anything similar, what they could have done differently, what they will do to feel better next time, and how they could help a friend experiencing similar feelings. Most importantly, provide reassurance that we all have feelings, all feelings matter, and that prickly feelings don’t last forever. 

Storybooks to Help Teach Emotional Intelligence  

Engaging in conversations about emotions can happen while reading any story, but here is a list of books that focus on social-emotional learning, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence to get you started: 

feelings books for infant toddler

feelings books for preschool, tk, pk, kinder, 1st, 2nd

Download How Storybooks Support Children's Emotional Intelligence pdf

download how storybooks support children's emotional intelligence infographic pdf


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