Emotional literacy

Emotional literacy describes a number of ‘soft skills’ that contribute to personal health and happiness, namely: self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, empathy, social skills and resilience.

The need for including these soft skills in mainstream education is slowly being recognized. However, with our focus still so firmly on academic achievement, the practice of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), which develops emotional literacy, is still under-prioritised or non-existent in our schools and homes.

The world has changed and our priorities must shift. 

The digital revolution, cyber-communication, over-population and global instability define the 21st century.

The impact of these radical global changes is felt by us all, but most fiercely by our children. Research shows that 22-25.6% of children aged 7-13 are experiencing symptoms of anxiety.

21st century children face an interesting predicament: Do they try and compete for limited resources and navigate uncertain terrain independently or do they learn to collaborate and find creative solutions together?

As the teachers and parents of these 21st century children we must respond by defining the critical skills needed to succeed in this new global environment and ensure that we focus on developing these skills within our education and parenting structures. The critical skills that ensured a successful factory career during the industrial revolution were obedience and the ability to follow instructions, but thriving within the unpredictable nature of the 21st century requires problem solving through critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and resilience.

Critical thinking and problem solving are ‘head skills’ that involve THINKING and developing the ability to organize, categorize, analyse and reflect on information in order to think through problems and find solutions.

Collaboration on the other hand depends on our ability to be in relationships with other people. Healthy relationships depend on high emotional literacy or ‘heart skills’, which depend on our ability to manage our FEELINGS.       

Creativity in the 21st century is a call to ACTION so that we physically manifest the solutions achieved through collaborative thinking. Creativity is an action or ‘hand skill’.

Resilience is our ability to think, feel and act in the face of adversity.

The 21st century calls on us to develop the whole child: head, heart and hands. 

Developing emotional literacy through the systematic process of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) in our homes and schools develops these critical ‘heart-skills’. Extensive research into the impact of SEL not only demonstrated a significant improvement in the participant’s emotional literacy but also an average of 11% increase in their academic performance.

This suggests that what we learn and how we act is controlled by how we feel, and that if we have the courage to shift our priorities and develop a child’s heart skills, their head and hands will follow.

Emotional Literacy is the missing piece of the puzzle that allows 21st century children to combine their critical thinking skills and act on their creative solutions so that they can thrive in the modern world.

Linda Bruce (Founder and director of COOL TO BE ME) linda@cooltobeme.com

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