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Emotional Literacy

Since 2019, relationship and health education has become part of the statutory guidance for all primary and secondary schools. The statutory guidance on relationships, sex, and health education was introduced by the Department of Education as a reflection of the increasingly complex world that children and young people are being asked to navigate.

Emotional and mental wellbeing plays a central role within the guidance with the department of education noting that by the end of primary school all children should be able to “recognise and talk about their emotions, including having a varied vocabulary of words to use when talking about their own and others’ feelings”. By the time a young person reaches the end of secondary school the guidance states they should be able “to talk about their emotions accurately and sensitively using appropriate vocabulary”. The guidance clearly points to a key focus on improving the emotional literacy of children and young people, but what is emotional literacy?

What is emotional literacy?

Emotional literacy (or ‘emotional intelligence’) refers to the ability to monitor and understand the feelings of ourselves and others. Mayor and Salovey (1997) designed the MSCEIT, a series of tests to assess an individual’s emotional intelligence. May and Salovey proposed there were four key aspects of emotional intelligence, the ability to manage, understand, facilitate, and perceive emotions.

1. Perceiving emotions

Emotional perception refers primarily to the nonverbal reception and expression of emotions. The ability to accurately perceive the emotions being expressed by others through their facial or voice cues provides the crucial starting point for more advanced understanding of emotions.

2. Using emotions

As we develop the skills to perceive and understand emotions, we then learn to use those emotions to facilitate thoughts. Through developing the capacity to use emotions an individual allows the emotions they perceive to enter into and guide our cognitive system ultimately promoting further thought.

3. Understanding emotions

As our emotional knowledge develops, we can also learn the ability to understand the causes of emotions as well as potentially associated responses. For example, a well-developed emotional understanding refers to a capacity to identify an emotion such as anger and then link that emotion to wider feelings, i.e., feeling frustrated, or feelings of unfair treatment.

4. Managing emotions

One of the most difficult skills to develop in relation to our emotions is the ability to manage the emotions of both ourselves, and those of others. The ability to regulate emotions can only come about as a result of the understanding that emotions convey information through voluntary action and conscious thought, we can ultimately change how we feel and react in the presence of that emotion.

What are the benefits of developing a good emotional literacy?

Research has shown that a young people who develop good emotional literacy skills benefit is a huge variety of different areas. For example, Brackett, Mayer & Warner (2004) concluded that young people with higher emotional literacy report having larger friendship networks and better-quality relationships with friends. Ciarrochi et al (2000) found a positive correlation between emotional literacy and empathy skills. Research has also shown that young people with higher levels of emotional literacy show greater levels of adjustment within the school environment. For example, Qualter, Whiteley, Hutchinson, and Pope (2007) concluded that children who had been supported to develop their emotional literacy skills experienced better transitions between primary and high school than those children who were not supported to develop these skills. This research also found that emotional literacy can be used to predict school exclusions, with those children with lower levels of emotional literacy more likely to be excluded.

Research has also explored the relationship between emotional literacy and academic performance. Children with higher levels of emotional literacy have been correlated with higher grades especially in mathematics (Lyons and Schneider, 2005). More recent research has shown that higher levels of emotional intelligence correlates to higher GCSE performances especially in English and Science (Qualter, Gardner, Pope & Hutchinson, 2011).

What can we learn from the research?

It is clear from the research presented that developing a young person’s emotional literacy can not only have potential benefits on their social and communication skills but also, their wider academic performance.

Here at bMindful Psychology, a central focus of our ethos is supporting not only young people but those around the young person to promote and support emotional development and wellbeing in young people. Support for a young person to develop their emotional literacy skills can happen in any environment. In a young person’s home environment, encouraging, openly sharing and naming emotions can support a young person to start to understand the emotions they may be experiencing.

One way to support emotional literacy within schools, is through the introduction of Emotional Literacy Support Assistants (ELSAs). ELSA are teaching assistant who are specially trained to support the development of recognising that children learn better and are happier in school if their emotional needs are also addressed. Emotional literacy takes time to develop, and some young people might need a little extra support.

If you know a young person struggling with emotional literacy who you think could benefit from professional support, or if you think your school could benefit from ELSA training or you would like more information about the support we could offer, contact our team on 0161 510 0111.

If you feel you need additional support you can contact bMindful Psychology on 0161 510 0111 or visit our website at bMindful psychology – a specialist psychology service with particular expertise in children and young people.

bMindful Psychology offers a range of services such as:

  • Children Counselling

  • Psychological Assessments

  • Autism Assessments

  • Private Children's Therapy

  • Residential children's home therapeutic care

  • Training and consultation for care teams and foster carers

  • Family support

  • One to one therapy

  • Psychological Assessment and Formulation

  • Expert Witness / Court reports

To get in touch about any of these services, please call 0161 510 0111 or email

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