If you’re familiar with any of Bridge the Gap’s course material or webinars, free resources or social media posts, you will undoubtedly have come across the term ‘emotional literacy’. You may have also heard the terms ‘emotional intelligence’ or ‘emotional education’.
In some fields these are interchangeable, while others define subtle differences. At Bridge the Gap, we talk about emotional education as the process of learning about emotional literacy. We educate families about feelings and emotions, leading to them becoming emotionally literate and better equipped to proactively take care of their own mental health.
Becoming emotionally literate is one of the BEST things you can do for yourself and your family to prevent mental ill health – rather than waiting for a mental health ‘problem’ to arise...and trying to ‘fix’ it.
So what are we talking about and why is it so important?
What is Emotional Education?
Emotional education is learning about what ‘emotions’ are, how they affect us, and what we can do to manage them.
Being able to name an emotion is the first step. When we understand that what we are feeling right now is ‘anger’, we can begin to consider why we are feeling that emotion and the effect it is having on us. We can then use the strategies we have learned to ‘move through’ that emotion in a positive way, dealing with the root cause if necessary and possible. This leads to a mentally and physically healthier outcome.
When we do NOT acknowledge or understand the emotions we are experiencing, it can be difficult to deal with them effectively, or in a positive way. Difficult feelings, particularly for children, can lead to destructive emotions (like shame) as well as negative thoughts about themselves.
We’ve probably all experienced explosive outbursts of anger - or perhaps the quiet gnawing away of fear in our bellies? These feelings are perfectly normal! Letting them control us and affect our lives is not.
Emotional education names and places these feelings, and gives us the tools to cope with them in a healthy way.
Why do we need Emotional Education?
Our emotional wellbeing is directly linked to our state of mental health wellness – or illness.
Bridge the Gap Founder & Director Jennifer Wyman explains in our training course for parents how “mental health and emotions cannot be separated. By learning more about emotions we can help to support mental health and wellbeing”.
The statistics around child and young adults’ mental health are, to put it bluntly, heart-breaking.
Back in 2016, The Independent reported that rates of depression and anxiety had increased by 70% over the previous 25 years. That, of course, was before a global pandemic.
In late 2020, The Mental Health Foundation carried out studies collecting data from teenagers both in-person and online. The following is just a sample of the findings:
“27 per cent of British teenagers surveyed said they felt ‘nervous, anxious or on edge’ most or nearly all the days of the previous fortnight.”
“36% of teenagers whose parents are unemployed reported feeling bad about themselves or that they’re a failure or have let themselves or their family down.”
“Almost six in ten (58 per cent) British teenagers surveyed have felt they have had no-one to talk to, ‘some of the time’ or ‘often’ during the pandemic.”
“Two-thirds (66 per cent) of British teenagers surveyed have worried the pandemic would affect their mental/emotional wellbeing.”
And this is just the young people...
We know, from our own experiences with families and parents, that those caring for anxious, depressed or fearful children frequently feel helpless too.
How can Emotional Education affect our mental health?
Our mental health – or ill health - is the result of an amazing mix of the physical chemical processes in our brains, the thoughts we have and the emotions we feel. Each feeds into the others.
When we feel anxious, it might be because we tell ourselves we will “never cope with this awful situation”, which in turn leads to a physical reaction generated by our brain doing its job: preparing us for fight or flight from something terrifying!
We shake, we sweat and our stomach churns. This feels awful!
If we don’t know what we are experiencing, or have any way of coping with that uncomfortable feeling, that reaction ITSELF becomes something to fear. So, the next time we’re anticipating that situation? Yep. Terrified. Not just of what we THINK might go wrong, but of the nauseating sensations that go with that fear.
We might start avoiding the situation altogether. Our behaviour changes. And suddenly we are no longer in control of our lives – our emotions are.
We’re complicated creatures!
What emotional education does is enable us to understand and control these processes so we can take back that control over our mental health. So many of us have no idea how to deal with difficult emotions! Our own, or other people’s... We are fearful of saying the wrong thing, making a situation worse, or just can’t face it because of own personal journeys. You are not alone!
Emotional education is crucial – now more than ever - because we know now that it is not responses that make things better, but connection. Connection with others – which, of course, has been sadly lacking in our lives recently.
Understanding our brains, understanding our own thoughts and feelings and understanding how to create connections with our children (for them) and with other adults (for ourselves) is the most powerful way to PREVENT mental health problems arising in the first place.
What difference does Emotional Education make?
Knowing that what you are feeling has a name, doesn’t make it go away.
What emotional education – becoming ‘emotionally literate’ - does, is allow you to experience that emotion for what it is, knowing that it is okay to feel that way, perfectly normal to feel that way, and that it won't last forever.
It gives you the tools to delve deeper into the roots of the emotion you are feeling, giving you a greater sense of control when you start to investigate what you might be able to do about it.
Emotional education is also about understanding our physical brains – what we can and can’t control at different stages of our development. The new knowledge we have about children's brain development is a total game-changer when we are faced with yet another sobbing tantrum from our 8-year-old, or the teenager disappearing for a day after totally baffling us with their ‘over reaction’.
Once you understand that you don’t actually have to fix your child – because they are NOT BROKEN – you can then use the tools and techniques we offer to simply provide your child with a loving, positive, safe space in which they can work through their emotions themselves - with your support.
Understanding what is happening in their brains – and having the knowledge and the tools to give them exactly what they need in that moment – changes EVERYTHING.
Who needs Emotional Education?
It is not simply a new skill or fad that we may choose or not choose to acquire. It has to become a new cultural and human norm – what we call 'authoritative parenting' (loving, kind, respectful boundary setting - NOT to be confused with authoritarian!) - if we are to turn the tide on the mental health crisis that we are living in.
Our lifestyles have changed, our expectations of children have changed, our understanding of brain development has changed – but our systems have not. Schools, health services, parenting culture... All are inherited from a time very different to the one we are living in now.
Most immediately, we need to help our children get through this global disaster. We need to help them navigate the world of social media. Both of these have profoundly affected the way we connect with others on a personal and social level – and these connections are key to mental health wellness.
To reach these vulnerable children – and right now, ALL children are vulnerable – anyone who has the privilege of a place of importance in their lives needs to understand how to build these connections and hold a safe space for a child to express and explore what they are feeling in any given situation. We know it works. Our referral networks, our waiting lists, our members, our schools, our parents and our children tell us so.
Parents, carers, relatives, teachers, coaches, club leaders... If you have a role in a child’s life – you can make a difference!
Where can I find out more about Emotional Education?
Please visit our website and browse our services to see how we can support you – while you support them.
And don’t forget – they drink from YOUR cup. Take care of yourself so you have the energy to give them what they need.
Popular support available to book now:
Emotional Literacy Parent and Child Craft Sessions (5 – 11)
https://bit.ly/BTGSatGlitter (Click BOOK NOW for Saturday 26th June sessions)
Understanding Anxiety Sessions for children (8 – 13)
http://bit.ly/BTGUnderstandingAnxietyInfo (Click BOOK NOW for August Dates)
https://bit.ly/BTGUnderstandingEmotions (Click BOOK NOW for 6 sessions starting 29th July)
Parent Course (online)
Feel empowered and supported. A wealth of information and suggestions to help you as your child develops.