Words are food for the brain. To make children smarter you need to grow their word power. Their IQ scores are linked to how proficient they become in demonstrating critical thinking skills through the mastery of words. What they understand to be factual, significant, and logical is measured through word choice and usage.

Emotional intelligence is also dependent on words. In order to manage emotions and learn how to deal with them appropriately, children need a vocabulary for identifying and discussing what they feel. When children grow their emotional word power they learn to talk, reflect, and understand what options they have for responding to the emotions they have identified.

The ability to understand and express feelings is known as emotional literacy. It involves a self-awareness process which shapes the way children self-regulate behavior. They learn to stay calm when angered or to reassure themselves when in doubt. They are better able to deal with fear, anxiety, confusion, and all emotions that cause stress. Naming the emotion reduces the stress level experienced. Knowing what you are feeling, helps to de-escalate inappropriate responses.

Catherine Wilson notes:

A child’s early steps in self-control involve learning to correctly identify an emotion and give it a name. Don’t be deceived by how elementary this may seem. Without help, many children can’t connect the dots between how they are feeling and the label for that feeling. And without a label for something as difficult to describe as a feeling, your child can’t begin to talk about and make sense of that feeling. Consequently, you can’t begin to help your child manage how he or she behaves in response to that feeling.

Children are not born with the knowledge and skills that prepare them to deal with emotions. We need to help them develop these skills. They learn how to respond in ways that are acceptable without causing injury to themselves or others. Teaching children words by which to label their emotions is a first step for exercising self-control and balance. Such guidance is critical at all stages in a child’s life.

Our nephew CJ was about 8 years old. We lived in Chicago. His excellent grades earned him a trip with Uncle Sammy to Barnes and Noble to choose two books as his reward. When we got to the store, I left him to explore book options in the pre-teen section while I checked out new memoirs.

He selected his books. I suggested that he could go ahead and pay for them. I handed him the cash and reminded him to collect the change. I thought that he would be pleased to negotiate the transaction himself. He went to the line and quickly came back a bit stressed out.

“Uncle Sammy, I’m not sure that I can pay for my books,” he said apprehensively.

“Why is that?”

“There are no kids in line. I don’t know if they allow kids to pay and I don’t want to be embarrassed.”

I assured him that it was normal to feel scared and a little anxious when you try out new things and are not sure how people will respond.

I suggested that he try it out and that I would be on standby within eyeing distance in case he needed me to intervene. “Stand in line. Wait your turn. I will be watching from here. If the clerk is dismissive and does not let you pay, just signal me. I will go and stand with you and we can pay together.”

He knew I had his back. The clerk accepted payment, gave him some change and a receipt. He signaled me. All was good.

His self-confidence in handling this stressful interaction was reinforced. As parents and guardians, we have to provide opportunities for our children to fail and succeed in a safe environment. This is what I did with CJ. I could have said “never mind, I’ll do it,” when he expressed reluctance. But he wouldn’t have learned an important emotional intelligence skill.

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