Tag Archives: emotional literacy

How to Help Children with their Emotional Response to the Lockdown

Whoa! Where did that come from? When the lockdown first started, I certainly didn’t see the full impact of what was coming, and what it would actually mean in teams of changes to our daily lives. The situation certainly startled me at first, alongside a dollop of disbelief. And then, as I settled into it, I could not deny a background feeling of unsettledness. When I could distract myself by engaging in something absorbing, I’d suddenly be re-startled as I recalled the full oddness of what was going on. Then came the feelings of acceptance, which still had some undertones of bewilderment. I could stay content as long as I didn’t allow myself to become agitated by thoughts of what I would have been doing in the other life. I also noticed that little things became bigger and big things became huge; everything felt more intense than usual.

Many of my books are about emotions and9781472949806 and I am a fan of the idea that emotions need expressing. I think the slight ‘war spirit’ essence of the current situation has made us all a bit stoical. We have metaphorically ‘held our emotional breath’. And yet there is no doubt that this situation will have had an emotional impact. Some of us will have felt this emotional impact at the time, some might have a delayed reaction, and some will have suppressed it, which may cause it to re-emerge in the future. The latter is more likely for those of us who are less familiar with emotional expression.

So, given my interest in emotional expression, I had was just starting to think about how my books could do with a supplement addressing the emotions of lockdown when a seven-year-old named Etta emailed me and shared the pages she thought needed to be added to my book What’s Worrying You? Etta is an emotional genius. I particularly liked her advice to ‘enjoy time off school; it won’t happen again.’ A soothing reminder for many children, I would think.


Brilliant drawings by Etta

Lockdown has many different emotional components. There are the feelings evoked by the actual lockdown and all that it entails, the anxiety about the actual virus, and the uncomfortableness caused by the uncertainty of the future, as we cannot know how this will ultimately unfold and how we will feel about our eventual return to ‘normal’.

Children are bound to be having some kind of emotional response to these circumstances. I believe it is important to help them find ways of expressing these emotions so they can find resourceful ways of dealing with them. It can be simply about asking your child what they are thinking and feeling. It could also involve:

  • Inviting your child to draw life in lockdown, like Etta did. They could give survival tips or show the pros and cons.
  • Chatting while out exercising, considering how life is different and what we like and don’t like about it.
  • Saying how you are feeling, or making a list of emotions which your child could choose from to express how they feel. They might be able to say what has triggered that emotion.
  • Having a conversation about any worries your child might have about their eventual return to school.

I guess this is just another prompt to remember that emotions have a significant impact on us and in a situation like this, we might need a little more help to focus on them and understand them. Ultimately, by acknowledging and processing the emotions of lockdown and its easing, you and your child are more likely to arrive at a place of gentle acceptance and some calm. Emotions that we acknowledge and process are always more manageable. This links to further consoling advice from Etta: ‘When you are in lockdown, just remember it won’t last forever.’

9781472942425My latest book, It’s OK to Cry, seems timely. It is not a book that explores the emotions of lockdown specifically but a book that helps children find the words to express how they feel. It was written with boys in mind as their conditioning can mean that they are less likely to express how they feel verbally. But it is actually helpful for everyone. It certainly could be used to help a child express the emotions associated with lockdown.

Coming soon is a free online booklet I have written for parents, carers and teachers with some creative activities to tackle boredom during lockdown, as well as activities to help children reflect upon recent events. It invites children to explore what has been enjoyable, what has been less so, and how all this has made them feel. It also includes a couple of activities to help you support your child with the emotions surrounding returning to school. This will be available from Bloomsbury.com. Please email bloomsburyeducation@bloomsbury.com if you are interested in receiving a copy to download.
For further ideas for helping your child with their emotions please visit: https://www.mollypotter.com/blog

Resilience Or ‘Bouncebackability’

I have been lucky enough to take the wonderful journey involved in writing a children’s non-fiction book in the areas of wellbeing and emotional health, several times. What I absolutely love about this process is the distillation of all I have researched and learnt over the years into a simply worded text (supported by illustrations). What’s Going On In My Head?, a book about positive mental health for young children, made me embark upon another such journey. I had to consider everything I knew about maintaining mental health – a key component of which is resilience – and put it into simple words.

Resilience is a word that’s been bandied about for a while now with the general understanding that it is one’s ability to deal with and ‘bounce back’ from life’s negative events. There is a fair amount of certainty that it is a good thing and it is so good in fact, we can’t have too much of it. However, even though the term is on most people’s radar, how to increase our resilience is a little more elusive. My book aims to make it less elusive so children can start thinking about and addressing the issues relevant to developing resilience.

In the book I have covered many of the well-known components that contribute to resilience, such as….

Molly's Blog

…but I also made a few further reflections relating to resilience that I think are a little less obvious. They are as follows.

Self esteem

I was there at the start of the ‘self-esteem’ movement in schools. I remember running INSET training on the stuff in the early days of the national Curriculum. I would say most people’s understanding was quite primitive back then and more or less amounted to, ‘we must praise the children more.’ We have certainly moved on but I still think there is room for further fine tuning.

I think we focus too much on the positive. Yes, you heard right! I think that genuine self-worth comes from not only enjoying and celebrating our strengths and achievements, but also from the complete acceptance that there are things we are not naturally talented at. It doesn’t mean we can’t practise and get better at those things, but there will always be others who excel in some areas with considerably less effort. (It makes sense therefore that if we have become good at something through exceptional effort, this is indeed praiseworthy). We need children to know that being less than great at some things is absolutely fine.

Emotional literacy

I could go on about emotional literacy for hours. In fact, I do! But a message about emotions that I think we are often being too indirect about or not delivering at all, is that we really do need to stop believing the unrealistic idea that we are meant to be happy all of the time. It’s partly advert and social media culture that promotes this idea. We need to help children understand that negative emotions are to be expected, and as long as we are mentally healthy, they will soon be replaced by another equally transient emotion. Humans experience a huge range of emotions – both comfortable and uncomfortable – and this is how it is meant to be. Negative emotions need to be fully acknowledged, validated and accepted so we can then move on and develop healthy coping strategies for when we are experiencing them.

Coping strategies – rumination

 Rumination – a thought that is bothering us by going round and round in our heads, and our ability to prevent or moderate it can have a huge impact on our mental health. There is no doubt that some people are afflicted with a tendency to ruminate more than others. 9781472959232 (1).jpgHelping children, especially the more anxious ones, to recognise 1) what rumination is, 2) when they are doing it, and 3) what they can do to ‘park’ it, can help maintain positive mental health. What’s Going On Inside My Head? explores all these messages and what’s more, it says it in ‘Kidspeak’!


Molly Potter has taught in both mainstream and specialist provision primary schools as well as being a county PSHE advisor. Her new book, What’s Going On Inside My Head?publishes on 21st February 2019 and is available to pre-order now.

Emotional literacy – a journey we’re still on. Molly Potter

Molly Potter author photoWhen I was a child, I am pretty sure none of the adults I knew had heard of emotional literacy – in word form or as a general concept. I probably had quite a standard 70s upbringing – a little higher on criticism and lower on warmth than I like to think my kids are getting. I certainly wasn’t helped to deal with my emotions. My mum was stoical. I never saw her cry. I did see her get irritated a lot though. Her irritation seemed to mostly manifest in telling us off frequently and criticising us. My dad on the other hand was a very sensitive man – but only to himself, not others, not exactly. He spent most of the time confused by his emotions with intermittent outbursts of anger. I never remember my parents starting a sentence with, ‘I feel….’ or sitting us down to talk through how we were feeling.

And what about school? Not much help there either. I was quite a naughty and unruly child. I was shouted at a lot and hit occasionally by my teachers and headteacher. Obviously neither hitting nor shouting were particularly emotionally nurturing. I remember being expected to just shut up and cope with everything. Emotions were not acknowledged and there were clear unwritten rules about them having no significance and it being futile even trying to express them. Crying seemed to be making a fuss that step too far and could evoke even more nasty responses from the adults.

No I am pretty sure emotional literacy did not appear in any conscious realm throughout my childhood. I have heard adults say, ‘but it did us no harm,’ but I question that. It takes a degree of self-awareness to see what damage it did and I have spent a couple of decades remedying that damage quite effectively in ways I suspect my grandparents would ridicule! No I would argue that emotional illiteracy is damaging. After all an emotionally illiterate person:

• bottles up their feelings (and then will occasionally explode). My dad.
• tends to blame others for their own emotions. My mum.
• struggles to relate the cause of an emotion to its effect (e.g. the person who tells their child off because they were actually frustrated by what happened at work). My mum and my dad.
• might behave aggressively or defensively when experiencing negative emotions. My dad.
• lacks empathy. Both again.

So as schools eventually became more emotionally savvy, stopped hitting children (!), acknowledged damaging things like bullying and prejudice and implemented the SEAL curriculum, PSHE and started to develop pupils’ wellbeing programmes, I was 100% behind this shift. I strongly believe emotional literacy is a really positive thing. After all a person who is emotionally literate is:

• consciously aware of the feelings they are experiencing,
• understands what caused the way they are feeling,
• knows the most effective way to express and process this feeling,
• can ‘read’ other people’s emotions successfully and adjust their responses accordingly
• likely to be able to build and maintain effective relationships.

A world full of emotionally literate people would be a wonderful place! However, there is still some way to go. Us Brits aren’t known for huge demonstrations of emotions are we? We’re not very good at letting emotions just flow. And yet healthy emotions do just that – flow. They arrive, we process them effectively and then they leave. Feeling comfortable around emotions so that they can be fully acknowledged, helps them to flow and this is just one part of being emotionally literate. It’s a paradox that the most emotionally resilient are those who readily express how they are feeling and yet we are taught to see shows of emotion other than anger as weak.

Emotions are unquestionably an integral part of being human. We have an emotional response (however mild) to pretty much everything we do but we don’t always consciously acknowledge them. Strong emotions can be overwhelming. Anger can consume us and we are unlikely to function well. Other emotions can consume us too and sometimes make us behave quite ineffectively or ridiculously. Emotions and how they are managed therefore can be crucial to an individual’s capacity for happiness, wellbeing and their ability to function effectively.

So if we do start to understand the importance of emotional literacy, what can parents/carers and teachers do to enhance emotional literacy? First and foremost – be a role model. Find opportunities to express your feelings and what caused them. It will feel counter-culture at first but go on – give it a go. Also make it clear that whatever you are feeling, you realise you have a choice about how you will behave in response to that feeling. Point out that some of the behaviours you choose can be helpful in reducing a negative emotion and help to get you back into a more resourceful state. For example – you always take deep breaths when you are angry. Also use a variety of words to describe different emotions so that children develop a good vocabulary for expressing how they feel. If you can’t express yourself – then you are more likely to bottle things up!

Secondly, ask children to report how different situations make them feel. If a child struggles to express themselves use tools like ‘emotion graphs’ which plot positive and negative emotions during the course of a day or for younger children, emotion faces for them to point to express how they felt at different times of the day. If a child says they are feeling a particular way – always acknowledge it and take it seriously. Even if their response seems ridiculous to us, remember it is very real for them. Ignoring emotions teaches children to suppress them which leaves the feeling un-processed. (Unprocessed feelings can mean a child will always feel the same emotion when they next face the same or a similar situation. That situation therefore becomes an automatic trigger for that emotion.)

Thirdly, use stories, TV programmes and books and speculate about how characters in them are probably feeling. Use picture books to help children ‘read’ the emotions in others. Picture books can be great for prompting discussions about emotions. I wrote How are you feeling today? with this in mind. This book not only gives children a selection of different emotions to consider, it also delivers suggestions for what a child could do when they are feeling each emotion. This helps children to understand that there is always a choice about what you can do when you are feeling a particular way. This is a very key foundation to healthy emotional literacy.

And do you know what; I think I could even convince my mum and dad that this stuff was important.

How are you feeling today coverHow are you feeling today? is a delightful book that parents and children can use as a way of exploring every day emotions and talking about different ways of coping with them. It provides children with several straightforward, entertaining and appropriate interactive ideas to help them deal with a selection of significant emotions.

Molly Potter is a teacher in a short-stay school with children that have been or are at risk of being excluded from mainstream schools – putting much of her PSHE expertise into practice. Her past experience includes teaching science and PSHE and delivering support and training in the development of Sex and Relationship Education programmes in primary schools.