Brief description of the issue
In the Gespe’gewa’gi, boys as young as five years old are lagging behind in terms of their emotional development maturity (DSPGÎM, 2017). At the age of 7 years old, when girls are able to find multiple synonyms to many emotions such as happy, sad, or angry, boys can only find more synonyms than girls to “anger” (BBC, 2018). This difficulty to express emotions aside from anger can have serious consequences on their ability to face a variety of situations over the course of their life. This situation is very concerning, and it shows we must start to teach emotional literacy at a very early age.
Differentiated socialization of boys and girls reinforces gender stereotypes. For example, anger is more accepted when expressed by boys. During childhood, they mainly learn to express this emotion, and that could hinder their ability to communicate (Ducret & Le Roy, 2012). We also note that adults, when talking to girls, have conservation subjects that are more often oriented towards emotions and tolerate crying more with girls than with boys (CSF, 2016).
Expressing emotions is part of the four dimensions of a child’s global development. It is therefore important to make sure that all children, girls and boys, are able to fully develop their emotional dimension through a variety of activities. These activities must as well be strongly anchored in the lived experiences and perspectives of Aboriginal peoples in order to foster an optimal social-emotional development (Tremblay, Gokiert, Georgis, Edwards & Skrypnek, 2013). This page points to a few activities you can facilitate in a childcare setting.
1. Expressing emotions – Mikmawe’l Tan Telikina’muemk
Within the « Mikmawe’l Tan Telikina’muemk – Teaching about the Mi’kMaq » guide, produced by the Mi’kmawey Debert Centre, a series of short activities on expressing emotions is explained in pages 43 to 56. If some activities are targeted at elementary-level children (for instance, writing a letter), most of them can be facilitated with children aged 3 to 4 years old.
2. Social and Emotional Learning
As Blanchet (2019, p. 26) states in an article on social and emotional learning among First Nations students in Quebec, many studies have shown the benefits of including these types of learning in schools’ curriculum (Shanker, 2014; Taylor, Oberle, Durlak et Weissberg, 2017). She adds that in many indigenous educational institutions, the implementation of a positive and caring environment is essential to children’s well-being and academic success. As some of them grow up with a lack of emotional security and experience intergenerational trauma, they need sustained attention (Clarke, 2007).
Teaching children how to express their emotions is a day-to-day challenge, but investing time in it will foster the development of the emotional dimension of the child, create favourable conditions for learning (Blanchet, 2019), as well as improving the child’s relational behaviours, decreasing his or her stress and increasing his or her learning capacity (Taylor et al., 2017).
The Jasmin Roy Foundation, in collaboration with the Centre des Premières Nations Nikanite and the Secrétariat aux affaires autochtones, has put together pedagogical tools to foster social and emotional learning among Quebec’s aboriginal students. The posters are available in English, French and Mi’gmaq (as well as other indigenous languages), and customizable versions are also available. They come with a teachers’ guide, available in English and French. Don’t hesitate to print them and put them in your group’s room to use it when children are struggling with expressing how they feel.
3. Learning emotions and feelings through stories
Storytelling allows children to feel and understand emotions and feelings. Here are a few book recommendations to discuss emotions with children:
- How the Cougar Came to be Called the Ghost Cat (Ta’n Petalu Telui’tut Skite’kmujewey Mia’wj) – Michael James Isaac
- When We Were Alone – David Alexander Robertson
- When We Are Kind – Monique Gray Smith
- Birdsong – Julie Flett
- Lila and the Crow – Gabrielle Grimard
- May We Have Enough to Share – Richard Van Camp
- My Heart Fills with Happiness – Monique Gray Smith
- The Circle of Caring and Sharing – Theresa Larsen-Jonasson
- Trudy’s Healing Stone – Trudy Spiller
- A Terrible Thing Happened – Margaret M. Holmes
Blanchet, P. (2019). Social and Emotional Learning Among Indigenous Students in Quebec: an Educational Tool Adapted to their School Realities. Journal of Perseverance and Academic Achievement for First Peoples, 3, 26-29. https://core.ac.uk/reader/224994304#page=26
Jasmin Roy Foundation. (2019). Alphabétisation des émotions chez les Premières Nations. https://fondationjasminroy.com/en/initiative/alphabetisation-des-emotions-chez-les-premieres-nations/
Clarke, H. (2007). Programme de compétence et de sécurité culturelles dans la profession infirmière autochtone. Vivre dans la dignité et la vérité. Ottawa, Canada : Association des infirmières et des infirmiers autochtones du Canada.
Taylor, R. D., Oberle, E., Durlak, J. A. & Weissberg, R. P. (2017). Promoting Positive Youth Development Through School-Based Social and Emotional Learning Interventions: A Meta-Analysis of Follow-Up Effects. Child Development, 88, 1156–1171. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12864
Tremblay, M., Gokiert, R., Georgis, R., Edwards, K. & Skrypnek, B. (2013). Aboriginal Perspectives on Social-Emotional Competence in Early Childhood, The International Indigenous Policy Journal, 4(4), https://doi.org/10.18584/iipj.2013.4.4.2