As parents, we read books to our young children nightly before bed.  We participate in weekly story times and join the library’s summer reading program all in efforts to help teach the skill of early reading literacy.  This is spectacular.  Way to go moms, dads, grandparents, and caregivers!  You are helping your child succeed!   

But did you know that early emotional literacy is equally important to a child’s mental health. 

What is emotional literacy you ask?  Emotional Literacy is a term that describes many components of a child’s emotional life. Theses components include:

  • Your child’s vocabulary of feeling words.
  • Your child’s ability to discriminate between individual feelings states.
  • Your child’s ability to accurately communicate their feeling state.
  • Your child’s understanding of how their feelings influence others or are influenced by others.
  • Your child’s understanding of how their feelings or other’s feelings impact situations.

Goodyear-Brown, P. (2010). Play therapy with traumatized children: a prescriptive approach. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons (pg.168).

In normal child development, children enter the world with strong emotional responses but no words to express them.  This is why infants cry to get their needs met and young toddlers tend to throw more tantrums than older children.  They do not yet have the word to express their feelings at this early stage of development.

It is our job as parents and caregivers to help children form a vocabulary that includes feeling words like happy, mad, sad, scared, frustrated, worried, or confused.  As caregivers we have a job to help children form associations between feeling states and behavior and learn how to articulate feelings appropriately. 

So now you ask… how do you do all of that?

Luckily you can utilize your love for early reading literacy to help teach your young children emotional literacy as well.  Starting as early as infancy, read to your child books that address emotional states and utilize feeling words.  Then use the pictures and feeling words in the book to engage your child in further dialog.  

To help get you started, here are several of my favorite children’s books that promote positive emotional literacy. I like these books because they are simple, fun, and beautifully illustrated.  

Board Books:


Pre-school and Beyond:

There are many more great children’s books about emotions.  Go to your local library and check out a book today.   

(Thanks in advance for using the links above. We get a small commission for referring you to Amazon, which we reinvest in different things within the business such as a sliding fee scale for low-income clients and new toys for our play therapy practice.”)

Photo by Daniela Rey on Unsplash

Cheryl Welsh

Cheryl Welsh

Child Therapist | LCPC, RPT

Parenting a child with emotional and behavioral needs can be overwhelming. I respect the courage it takes to engage in counseling. I strive to provide treatment that honors your values and traditions and help you connect with your child on a deeper level.
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