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Why teenagers need a diverse vocabulary to articulate their feelings

by Staff

Why teenagers need a diverse vocabulary to articulate their feelings

Today’s youth in Australia undoubtedly face challenging situations that evoke strong emotional reactions, whether it be from the Covid-19 pandemic, natural disasters, foreign conflicts, or stress caused by the excessive use of social media.

Unfortunately, many young people find it difficult to accurately identify, embrace, and regulate their emotions, despite it being a critical life skill that is essential for their health and wellbeing.

As emotions and feelings reflect our current state, having a broad vocabulary to verbalise feelings can both signal strong emotional and social literacy, helping them to communicate their emotions and articulate their perception of the world around them.

Strathcona Girls Grammar recently conducted a comprehensive 12-month redesign of their school wellbeing program to reflect the changing needs to its students. At the heart of this program is “wholebeing” – an approach that cultivates students’ self-awareness, purpose exploration, authenticity, goal setting, positive habits, and emphasises enthusiasm in adulthood.

Below, The Educator speaks to Amber Sowden, Dean of Students at Strathcona Girls Grammar to find out more.

TE: Why is it so important adolescents are introduced to a diverse emotional vocabulary?

As humans, we experience an extensive range of emotions throughout our lives and learning how to effectively recognise, label, and process these feelings is crucial to developing emotional regulation, emotional self-awareness, emotional intelligence, positive relationships and resilience.

Introducing adolescents to diverse emotional vocabulary equips them with the tools required to navigate the complexities of their emotions, build healthier relationships and thrive in many aspects of their lives.

Emotions are often deeply nuanced – we can feel multiple emotions at once or several in a short space of time – and having the emotional vocabulary to discuss these emotions helps us better manage our responses and know when we can cope and when we need support.

TE: How can emotional vocabulary be taught, and what does Strathcona Girls Grammar’s approach look like?

The teaching of emotional vocabulary is best done through targeted social and emotional learning experiences that allow students to self-reflect and explore the skills they need to develop a positive identity and trusting and empathetic relationships. Parents and teachers can play an important part in this learning by creating an environment whereby a child or adolescent feels supported to examine their emotions. For children, this can be done by labelling the feeling, creating an emotion word bank documenting both basic and complex emotions, through reading and literature, by role play and storytelling. Adolescents need space to explore emotions and develop their vocabulary. This is best supported by adults who are good listeners, and who encourage discussions around perspective so that empathy can be modelled and explored in a safe environment.

At Strathcona, our Wholebeing approach from ELC to Year 12 is focused on developing the social and emotional literacy of our students in an intentional stage focused way. Using a framework of ‘Me, We, Us’, students are provided learning experiences that incorporate activities to develop metacognition, self-awareness, connection to self and others, exploration of meaning and purpose, authenticity, setting of goals, developing positive habits, and the importance of essentialism/life design in adulthood. To compliment this learning, students at Strathcona have regular opportunities to check-in with a trusted staff member who can help them navigate, problem solve and recognise their emotions and the impact they have on others.

TE: You say labelling emotions – even the complex ones – can set children up for a healthy adulthood. Can you tell us more about this?

By recognising and labelling the emotions we experience, we become more emotionally in tune with ourselves and others, becoming healthier and happier adults. Supporting children and adolescents to a develop emotional literacy, helps them foster a deeper level of emotional understanding, navigate social dynamics, become better attuned to their own inner experiences, identify negative and positive thinking patterns and differentiate between subtle emotional states.

The process of learning to label complex emotions is gradual and ongoing and by providing the tools to navigate emotions, we set the stage for healthier emotional development and a more fulfilling adulthood.

TE: Can you share some 5 or 10 quick tips for how schools can encourage teenagers to speak about their emotions?

  • Consistency is key when encouraging children and teenagers to share their emotions, as is creating a non-judgemental space where they feel safe and secure to be vulnerable with others.
  • Incorporate emotional literacy into the curriculum by integrating activities focused on emotional learning.
  • Provide dedicated time for emotional check-ins so students can reflect on and discuss how they’re feeling.
  • Offer professional development and training to teachers and staff on how to create an emotionally supportive classroom and effectively respond to student’s emotional needs.
  • Encourage artistic forms of creative expression such as art, music, writing or drama as avenues for students to explore and communicate their emotions.
  • Normalise conversations around mental health and provide access to counselling services.
  • Engage parents and carers on the importance of emotional well-being and encourage open dialogues about emotions at home.

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