Using voice to manage emotion

Molly Entrican, head of pre-prep at York House School on encouraging empathy, understanding and emotional intelligence

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.

Developing emotional intelligence


Molly Entrican - York House
Molly Entrican – York House


At my school we have adopted a process called *RULER (created by the Yale Centre for emotional intelligence), which aims to recognise the five learnable skills of emotional intelligence. These are recognising, understanding, labelling, expressing and regulating emotion. This approach helps to furnish children with strategies that they can call upon when they are perhaps not feeling 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 pre-prep we use the ‘feeling words curriculum’, which goes a step beyond feelings like sadness, happiness, fear, anger, surprise, disgust etc. These feeling words encourage our children to think more deeply about the emotion they are experiencing. For example – Are you feeling angry or are you actually irritated?

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 equipped at expressing themselves at home too.  If young children are to flourish in tomorrow’s world, they will need emotionally driven, empathetic ‘tool kits’ to help them and as schools, it is our job to guide them.

York House pupil talking to pig
York House pupil talking to pig

How animals help

There are of course many other ways that schools can encourage the use of voice to manage emotions. For instance, many schools incorporate onsite animals into their day-to-day pastoral provision. From reading dogs to onsite chickens, and even smallholdings/onsite farms. 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, emotion or mood that the child brings with them. If a pupil is noisy or boisterous the animal will likely back off, 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 the child on almost every occasion.  Once they understand how beneficial and necessary nurture is for the animals, they can apply that lesson to human interaction as well.

The use of ‘talk boxes’

The use of ‘talk boxes’ is also helpful from year three to eight, whereby pupils are asked to write down their worries put them inside a private box. This encourages children to express their voice emotions in a secure, non-intrusive way. This works well for children who don’t feel confident enough to express themselves aloud to a teacher or friend. Likewise, circle time, where teachers pick a topic for discussion that might be worrying a child and allow some dedicated time for them to express themselves, is a great way to use voice to reduce worries and help children move on positively with the rest of their day.

Using a variety of methods to nurture voice emotions in school and making a commitment to teach emotional intelligence from a young age, is vital in ensuring our future world is a positive, happy place for young children.


RULER: The Five Skills of emotional intelligence:

  • Recognising
  • Understanding
  • Labelling
  • Expressing
  • Regulating


Some ways to use voice to manage emotional response

  • Using a greater range of ‘feeling’ words encourages children to think more deeply about the emotion they are experiencing.
  • Animal therapy and  talking one to one with animals  helps children to share emotions and thoughts without fear of judgement.
  • Circle Time helps to choose a topic that might be worrying a child and set aside some dedicated time to discuss thereby using voice to reduce anxiety.
  • Talk Boxes: private worry boxes help children to write down their thoughts in a secure and non-intrusive way.

Read more about the IET World Mental Health Day campaign

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