By Catherine St-Amand-Guitard, M.Sc., Ps.Ed., Psychoeducator
What is emotion recognition?
Emotion recognition is the ability to accurately identify and label emotions in oneself and others. This involves understanding the facial expressions, body language, and voice signals that accompany different emotions. Emotion recognition is an important aspect of emotional intelligence, which refers to a person’s ability to identify, express and differentiate emotions such that the person can effectively regulate their emotions.
- Identification of emotions - Identifying emotions corresponds to a person’s ability to specifically name the emotion(s) that they feel and to understand where they stem from. In order to do this, it is important to take into account the characteristics of emotions, based on physical sensations, non-verbal cues, thoughts, and behaviours.
- Expression of emotions - Expressing emotions corresponds to a person’s ability to accurately express their emotions and to share them with others. This expression can be done orally, in writing, or through another medium, such as dance.
- Differentiation of emotions - Emotion differentiation corresponds to a person’s ability to make subtle distinctions between similar emotions, whether considered to be pleasant or unpleasant, such as distinguishing anxiety from excitement.
What is emotional self-regulation?
Emotional self-regulation refers to a person’s ability to manage and regulate their emotions in response to different situations and stimuli. It involves a conscious effort to approach their experiences, expressions, and emotional behaviours in a nuanced manner to achieve the desired objectives or results. This could involve techniques such as deep breathing, positive self-talk, and cognitive reassessment (CR), which are used to regulate emotions and face stressful or difficult situations (Saraçli et al., 2021; Zhang et al., 2021). Emotional self-regulation is an essential aspect of emotional intelligence and is associated with a series of positive results, in particular improvements in mental health, academic results, and social skills.
Why are emotion recognition and emotional self-regulation important for our students with LDs?
Emotion recognition and emotional self-regulation are essential skills for everyone, but they are particularly important for students who have learning disabilities (LDs), for a number of reasons.
For students with learning disabilities, emotion recognition and emotional self-regulation are closely linked. All children and youth struggle with cognitive control and emotional regulation, as the area of the brain responsible for these skills, the prefrontal lobe, continues to develop until the age of 25 (Gogtay et al., 2004; Diamond, 2013). Students with LDs can experience a delay in the development of this area of the brain, which can make it even more difficult for them to regulate their emotions effectively (Diamond, 2013).
Students with LDs can be years behind their peers in regulating their emotions, which can lead to negative academic, social, and emotional outcomes (Piersol & Vrablik, 2021; Van der Meer et al., 2012). These challenges can lead to frustration, anxiety, and other negative emotions, which can prevent students with LDs from engaging in their academic learning (Piersol & Vrablik, 2021). Difficulties in recognizing emotions can also make it harder for these students to establish positive relationships with their peers and with adults since they have trouble understanding and responding to social signals (Silver et al., 2005). Emotion recognition is a fundamental skill that promotes more effective regulation of emotions. By accurately identifying and labelling emotions, students can develop a better understanding of their own emotional responses, as well as those of others.
Additionally, developing these skills can also help students to nurture a growth mindset, which is the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through effort and perseverance. A growth mentality can help students with LDs to overcome the challenges that they face and to develop a sense of self-determination and resilience (Dweck, 2006). Students who have a growth mindset are more likely to persevere in the face of challenges and to consider failures as opportunities for growth (Mueller & Dweck, 1998).
Learning strategies for emotion recognition and emotional self-regulation will help students with LDs manage the heightened emotional responses to academic challenges and social situations they feel, more effectively (Piersol & Vrablik, 2021). In addition, these strategies can also foster better academic performance, social success, and mental health and self-esteem outcomes in students with learning disabilities (Feldman & Matjasko, 2005).
Ways to involve parents in teaching emotion recognition and emotional self-regulation:
- Practise the skills learned in class at home: assign exercises for homework connected with the content learned in class about emotion recognition and emotional regulation. In order to help parents effectively support their children, it is essential to give them tricks and hints that they can apply at home.
- Provide training sessions or webinars for the parents: parents are pillars of their child’s education; by equipping them adequately, they will be allies for their child to learn emotion recognition and emotional regulation.
- Model emotional self-regulation: children learn a lot from the behaviour of their parents. Parents can model effective emotional self-regulation by remaining calm when faced with stressful situations.
- Help children to identify their emotions: encourage children to identify and label their emotions. This can help them to better understand their own emotional responses and to learn to regulate them effectively.
- Teach adaptation strategies: help children to develop adaptation strategies for managing difficult emotions. This can include deep breathing, taking a break, or having a conversation with a trusted adult.
- Practise problem-solving skills: help children to develop problem-solving skills that they can use to deal with difficult situations. This can include brainstorming to find solutions and evaluating the pros and cons of the different options.
- Encourage self-reflection: encourage children to think about their emotional responses and to identify what triggered them. This can help them to better understand their own emotional patterns and to learn to regulate their emotions more effectively.
- Create a positive environment: create a healthy and positive environment where the child feels comfortable expressing their emotions and asking for help when needed. This can help them to develop a feeling of safety and security, which is important for effective emotional self-regulation.
Overall, emotion recognition is an essential component of emotional intelligence and is closely connected to emotional regulation in students with learning disabilities. Interventions based on mindfulness and cognitive-behavioural interventions can be effective in improving emotional regulation skills, and developing such skills can lead to a growth mindset. By developing these skills, students can improve their social, emotional, and academic outcomes; for this reason, emotional regulation skills should be an area of significant interest for educators and parents. Parents can play an essential role by supporting the development of their child’s emotional self-regulation at home by modelling effective emotional regulation strategies, helping their child to identify and label emotions, teaching adaptation strategies, promoting problem-solving skills, encouraging self-reflection, and creating a positive environment (LaFrenière, 2011).
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Van der Meer, J., Jansen, M., van der Meijden, S., & Segers, E. (2012). Emotion regulation in children with learning disabilities. Learning and Individual Differences, 22(2), 279-284.
Zhang, H., Wu, Q., Wang, L., & Xiao, X. (2021). The effect of mindfulness-based intervention on the emotional regulation and attention of college students with learning disabilities. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 648029.
Catherine St-Amand-Guitard is a psychoeducator and member of the OPPQ (Quebec professional order of psychoeducators). She currently works at the Clinique d’évaluation neuropsychologique de l’Outaouais (CENO). Her areas of expertise include crisis management, emotional management, anxiety, relationship difficulties, inattention and hyperactivity in children from 0 to 14 years. She was employed by the Jules-Léger Center Consortium (CCJL) for five years as a residential worker and as the residential coordinator of the learning disabilities program. She worked closely with the Centre franco-ontarien de ressources pédagogiques, with Marc Tremblay, a specialist in UX research (user research), as well as with other collaborators for the purpose of putting together her Trousse Intello-Émotif. Catherine previously worked with clients from 0 to 5 years of age in a childcare centre (CPE) in Quebec as a coach for children with autism. She also worked for a number of years with autistic children and adolescents, in a community organization.