Usborne writer and Editorial Director Felicity Brooks and designer Frankie Allen share what they learned about social and emotional learning theory when creating the delightful picture book All About Feelings.
All About Feelings is structured around an approach to Social and Emotion Learning that was created at the Yale University Center for Emotional Intelligence. Known by the acronym RULER, it aims to teach children (and their teachers) the five skills of emotional intelligence: Recognizing, Understanding, Labelling, Expressing and Regulating emotions. (It is based on the pioneering work of two psychologists who first launched the study of 'emotional intelligence' over 50 years ago.)
Thousands of schools in the USA and around the world have now adopted this approach, and extensive studies have shown that children in these schools are less anxious, better behaved, more attentive and more independent. In short, children with higher emotional intelligence are better prepared to manage their emotional lives so that they can focus, learn and do their best at school.
Of course it was hard to translate an holistic school practice into an engaging book for young children, but we aimed through the text and Mar Ferrero's wonderfully expressive illustrations to help children learn to recognize feelings (their own and others') through facial expression and body language; learn the names for different feelings; understand where feelings come from; learn that emotions can be 'jumbled up' (mixed) and can also change quickly so they don't have to get 'stuck' with a feeling they don't like. With practice, children can learn to make a choice about how to express a feeling and ultimately develop empathy so that they are kind to others. Older children can also learn to eliminate negative self-talk ("I'm useless at everything!") and reframe their thinking into something more positive so that they learn to be kind to themselves.
Representing feelings visually and describing them in words was quite a challenge, but we found the idea of colour coding emotion words (a technique used in RULER) very useful – children can point to or say the colour they are feeling, or choose different colours for their own feelings. In the book we use red to represent angry feelings, yellow for happy, green for calm and blue for sad, and this code is used for the speech bubble and label colours throughout the book.
We also came up with similes for different emotions, some of which were based on things children told us when we asked them to describe feelings. My favourites are 'I feel like I'm swimming in sunshine' for happiness and 'I feel like my blanket is hugging me' for calm. We also use extended visual and verbal metaphors, for example describing difficult emotions as 'fizzy feelings' - these feelings are trapped like a gassy drink inside a bottle but they can 'explode' out in unhelpful ways if we don't find a safe way to release them. (It helps that we often talk about people 'bottling up' emotions when they can't find a way to express them…)
The overall message of the book is that the best thing to do is to TALK to someone about how you are feeling. There are also some tips for parents and carers with ideas to help children learn to manage their emotions at home. With so many young children now reporting feelings of anxiety and worry even at Primary School, we hope that the book will go some way towards promoting good mental health for all ages, as well as being an entertaining and sometimes humorous read.
All About Feelings was chosen by the Empathy Lab for their 2020 Read for Empathy Book Collection.
Felicity Brooks and Frankie Allen