Fostering Emotional Literacy

Download the article, Fostering Emotional Literacy.

Article - Fostering Emotional Literacy
image of mother and daughter

“Emotional literacy is the ability to identify, understand, and respond to emotions in oneself and others in a healthy manner” (Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning, 2005, p. 2). Children who develop an emotional vocabulary and emotional literacy can manage strong feelings, exercise impulse control, show focused attention, and demonstrate academic achievement throughout their lives.

A Caregiver’s Critical Role

“The ability to label emotions is a developmental skill that is not present at birth—it must be learned” (Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning, 2005, p. 2).

Healthy social-emotional development for babies and toddlers occurs through warm, positive, and secure relationships with caring and nurturing adults. Emotional development begins early in life and is a critical aspect of development that is firmly tied to all other areas of a child’s growth and development. Infant/toddler caregivers play an important role in supporting babies and toddlers in child care settings to develop their capacity to positively experience, manage, and express emotions. Acknowledging and understanding that babies are not born with the ability to understand and manage their feelings is critically important. They need supportive adults to help them grow and develop in this area.


In child care settings, caregivers can support babies’ and toddlers’ development of emotional literacy by doing the following

  • Expressing their own feelings 
  • Naming babies’ and toddler’s feelings
  • Reading stories, playing games, and singing songs with feeling words
  • Talking about the fact that feelings can change 
  • Modeling positive relationships between adults in the care setting and with other children 
  • Displaying pictures depicting babies and toddlers with various feelings, emotions, and empathic scenarios around their early learning environment


Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. (2005). Fostering emotional literacy in young
children: Labeling emotions.