Molly Entrican, Head of Pre-Prep at York House School, discusses the value of voice as a powerful tool to help young children understand and regulate feelings

With growing numbers of children struggling with mental health issues from a younger age, it is helpful to recognise the power of voice in helping them to regulate their emotions. At York House, we have adopted a process called ‘RULER’, originally created by Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence as a method to recognise and use the five learnable skills of emotional intelligence. These are Recognising, Understanding, Labelling, Expressing and Regulating emotions. This approach helps to furnish children with strategies that they can call upon when they are not feeling at their best. Fundamentally, this is all about encouraging empathy and understanding for other people’s feelings.

Embedding an approach like this into our school, and also into our children’s daily lives, has made in a significant difference to their mental wellbeing and also how they interpret and display feelings of frustration or disappointment. Within our pre-prep we use the ‘feeling words curriculum’, which goes a step beyond feelings like sadness, happiness, fear, anger, and so on. This encourages our children to think more deeply about the emotion they are experiencing. We might ask: ‘Are you feeling angry or are you actually irritated?’, for example.  

Encouraging children to think beyond the obvious, furnishes them with a wider range of words that they can use confidently and with maturity to express themselves emotionally in school. Many parents have commented that having access to a greater range of vocabulary to depict specific emotions has helped their child to become better at expressing themselves at home too.

York House School on the importance of voicing feelings
Children find all sorts of ways to communicate – often animal encounters can help them open up, says Molly Entrican

If children are to flourish in tomorrow’s world, they need emotionally driven, empathetic ‘toolkits’ to help them and, as schools, it is our job to guide them. There are of course many other ways that schools can encourage the use of voice to manage emotions. For instance, many schools incorporate animals into day-to-day pastoral provision. From reading dogs to onsite chickens, and even smallholdings or farms on site. Talking to animals is known to help children to communicate how they are feeling and what they are experiencing.

Interestingly, animals often reflect the energy that the child brings. If a pupil is noisy or boisterous the animal will likely back off, whereas if they are calm the animal will approach and seek to interact in a positive way. That interaction brings a sense of calm and purpose to nearly all children and, once they understand how beneficial and necessary nurture is for the animals, they can apply that lesson to human interactions as well. 

The use of ‘talk boxes’ is also helpful from Year 3 to 8, whereby pupils are asked to write down their worries and put them inside a private box. This encourages children to voice their emotions in a secure, non-intrusive way, a technique that works well for children who don’t feel confident enough to express themselves aloud. So too circle time – where teachers pick a topic for discussion and allow some dedicated time for children to express themselves – reducing worries and helping children to move on positively.

Using a variety of methods to nurture voice emotions in school helps pupils to thrive, as does making a commitment to teach emotional intelligence from a young age. These approaches are vital in ensuring our future world is a positive, happy place for today’s young children.

York House School

Further reading: Sutton High Prep takes learning outside