Blog Series: Empathy and Project Heart - Week 1 -- Emotional Literacy

June 29, 2020

Welcome to the first of 10 blogs in our series all about the "9 Essential Habits that Give Kids the Empathy Advantage" and Dr. Michele Borba’s book Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World.

The first habit Dr. Borba talks about is emotional literacy. But what is emotional literacy? 

Emotional literacy simply means that a person can recognize feelings and emotions in others. This first habit is the foundation of developing empathy because a person cannot take another’s perspective (proverbial “walk in their shoes”) if they don’t have the capacity to interpret gestures, posture, tone of voice and facial expressions.

For example, we have all been in a discussion about a sensitive subject and feel that the person we are talking to won’t see the situation from our perspective. And maybe some of us have been that person who is has a hard time seeing the challenge through someone else’s perspective. In both scenarios, the end result is usually frustration and the discussion turns into an argument. This is why emotional literacy is so important.

When you see a friend has slumped shoulders and has hands to face, you approach them much differently than when they are smiling with arms wide open. Interpreting small signs and signals to determine what others are feeling is emotional literacy and it is a crucial habit that impacts every aspect of our lives. In work, home or community, the ability to recognize the feelings and emotions of others helps us cultivate strong relations with those around us. When we are unable to exercise emotional literacy, we run the risk of alienating everyone around us.

Building emotional literacy is a key component of our Project Heart for the Elementary Club setting. As you can see in the overview and appendices HERE, we offer tips for how to use the Yale Mood Meter, books to read together, empathy building games and more! It was incredible to witness the side conversations at a local elementary school when an Otter Products employee, Luke, volunteers to read The Invisible Boy. There were murmurings about, “Why can’t anyone see Brian?” and “How do they know he’s there if he’s invisible?” As the story progressed, “Oh wait he’s standing up straighter and smiling a little bit. The other kids can see him now because the new boy was nice to him.”

The best way to instill emotional literacy is to provide face-to-face interaction and then discuss the vocabulary associated with emotions. Dr. Borba offers many age-by-age strategies in her book, our favorite suggestions are to set “unplugged” times, eat together, and read books to discuss emotions of characters. Dr. Borba is not the only expert nudging us toward teaching emotional literacy, so you can discover more strategies from Edutopia HERE and do your own searching for emotional literacy or emotional intelligence.

What are ways you encourage emotional literacy? Share on social media using #myprojectheart!