The Emotions: Study Action Areas


Each of the nine MAC themes is divided into four study action areas. This page sets out specimen content for the study action areas that form part of the Emotions theme.

The four study action areas in this theme are:

  1. Learning about emotions
  2. Developing self-awareness
  3. Learning self-regulation
  4. Promoting feelings of self-worth

This page also includes the following:

MAC brings together disparate National Curriculum materials and adds important material, aiming to organise children’s learning in a focused and determined way.

There is no suggestion that the content set out below is in any sense definitive. It is intended merely for discussion and debate, a starting point for the detailed programmes of learning that will be required for each year group.

Only in recent years are we beginning to realise the impact that emotions have on the body and on the mind. Emotional turmoil affects bodily health. Emotional turmoil distracts the mind from focusing on anything else other than the turmoil itself. Children need to be healthy in body, emotionally adroit and with a mind focused on learning. All three act in harmony. For this to happen, MAC gives equal priority to all three areas.

Our emotions are with us 24/7. They are like the motion of the ocean, sometimes calm, other times the perfect storm and constantly every shade of weather in between. We cannot do without them, though we often wish we could. They can plunge us into the depths, or we can ride the waves in the splendour of sunlight and sparkling waters.

The aim is for children to learn about their emotions and develop emotional resilience in relation to themselves, other people and the environment. Emotional resilience requires knowledge, self-awareness and self-regulation.

Study Action Area 1: Learning about emotions

Children need to be able to identify the basic range of emotions — anger, surprise, fear, disgust, sadness and happiness. They need to learn a wide emotional vocabulary and come to understand that emotions in themselves are neither good nor bad.

Specimen content:

  • Knowledge. Children learn to recognise the basic set of emotions — anger, surprise, fear, disgust, sadness and happiness.
  • Vocabulary. Children extend their vocabulary to take on knowledge and understanding of an increased set of nuanced emotions.
  • Emotions are neither good nor bad. Children learn that feelings are not positive or negative in themselves. Emotions become positive or negative depending on how they are managed. It is all right to be fearful (fear protects), angry (anger defends) or sad (sadness releases) but not all right to be fearful, angry or sad all the time. Neither is anyone happy, joyous or content all the time.

Study Action Area 2: Developing self-awareness

Much of the time we are not in touch with our emotions; our feelings do not register with us. We were not taught to take our emotions into account except in a vague way. Emotions were secondary to using our brains in the pursuit of knowledge. This needs to change.

As we start to teach successive generations of young children, we will end up with an adult population owning their emotions and recognising the emotional content in their decision making. Children learn to identify how they are feeling at any one time and how feelings give rise to thoughts and thoughts give rise to feelings.

Specimen content:

  • Self-awareness. Children can increasingly identify and label their own emotional responses to different situations such as falling over, feeling unwell, anticipating an event or responding to a learning activity
  • Link to thinking. Children can give practical examples of how emotions influence behaviour and thinking; and can identify ways in which their thinking gives rise to emotions and ways of behaving.
  • Reflection. Children can reflect on their own emotional responses by giving examples of their own; describe occasions and times when they are aware of particular emotions surfacing (emotional triggers); and have an awareness when they are not comfortable within themselves.

Study Action Area 3: Learning self-regulation

The greater the development of emotional skills, the greater is the ability to self-manage. Children identify emotions working negatively within themselves and learn to self-regulate their emotions.

Specimen content:

  • Self-regulation. Children develop ability to self-regulate their emotional responses. Self-regulation refers to the ability to manage disruptive emotions and impulses. The pupils recognise impulsive feelings and behaviours are learned emotional responses from experiences in the past in relation to people, events, or situations.
  • Emotional control. Children learn strategies such as pausing to think before reacting; thinking differently and then reacting differently to help manage not so good feelings; or having a safe place in the mind to switch and holding that moment.

Study Action Area 4: Promoting feelings of self-worth

How we feel emotionally is inextricably linked to what we think of ourselves. A major part of the learning is the acquisition of strategies to maintain a positive self-image, that is, the pupils value themselves and have a healthy self-respect. Children identify emotions working negatively within themselves and learn to self-regulate their emotions.

Specimen content:

  • Emotional positivity. Children learn to be active in creating positive emotions such as thinking positively; using self affirming internal dialogue; understanding no one is perfect; thinking of the good things in life; developing the ability to cheer yourself up; putting aside emotional distractions to focus on the learning. 
  • Positive thinking. A key part of children learning is the development of a positive mind set. The development of a strong sense of self-worth is crucial. In the ‘I’m O.K. You’re O.K.’ transactional analysis context, self-worth is the ‘I’m O.K.’ half of the equation. If the person is not O.K. within themselves, then positive interactions with others is not going to happen.

Further information

Websites contributing ideas and information to the action areas are listed on the links page.

Teaching notes

Teacher attitude and approach

All pupils require unconditional positive regard. Emotionally vulnerable children require special support to change the way they feel about people, events and situations.

By the time pupils come to school, they already have an established pattern to their emotional behaviour. The emotional set they are born with and their experiences from birth combine to hardwire their emotional set before they reach school. Emotional sets range from the upbeat and confident to the withdrawn, confused and negative.

For a variety of social, environmental and physical factors there are a percentage of pupils who are highly emotionally disturbed as exhibited in their anti-social behaviour and inability to self-govern their emotions. These pupils require specialist help in the context of a school environment where the teachers and all staff are nurturing and caring.

Providing an environment conducive to learning

The Emotions learning domain helps pupils to increase their sensitive to their environments by recognising the emotional impact the environment has on pupil well-being and learning.

The way the classroom is set out can help or discourage interactions between pupils and with the teachers. It is that simple.

Physical and mental discomfort caused by the learning environment interferes with learning. The ‘wrong’ environment influences mood negatively and learning suffers. The concept is to provide an emotionally positive learning space that the pupils own, are comfortable in and have an emotional attachment to. This is a tall order in the context of the considerable environmental constraints placed on schools — thirty seats in a room eight by eight metres square.

The design of the classroom is important, as is the colour scheme (creating a calm atmosphere), the ambient lighting, the provision of temperature regulation, the movement of air, the desks, the chairs and the seating arrangement. Dark, dingy, stuffy and overheated classrooms (either from central heating or the baking sun beating through windows) do little to assist learning. The reality is great contrast in the design of schools and classrooms from Victorian buildings still in use to modern designs that don’t quite work. The response is to make the best of the environment whatever the condition of the building and the design of the classrooms.

Teachers generally go to great lengths to customise their classrooms with much time spent on displaying pupil work on walls and creating small spaces for project displays and nature tables. The disposition of the classroom encourages a positive mood, or creates a mood of gloom and boredom. A tidy but busy classroom stimulates pupil discussion and sharing.

Provision of alternative environments outside of the classroom contributes to positive learning such as provided through play and lunch time breaks, PE lessons in gym halls and use of the school playing field. Some schools have the space for groups of children to spread out from the classroom into the corridor or school library. One point to consider is obtaining more feedback from the pupils on what works best for them.

Emotions and learning

Emotions play a crucial role in learning. It should come as no surprise that emotion is a key component in the learning process as outlined in the MAC learning domain ‘The Mind’. Emotions drive attention. Attention drives memory. Memory drives learning. Being in a good way with emotions is essential for learning to take place.

Mental ill health

The importance of emotional intelligence is emphasised by the increased prevalence of mental ill-health arising from the stresses and strains of modern-day living, life events and unforeseen happenings.

It seems that all of us at some point in our lives will suffer mental ill health while a significant number of us have to contend with long term emotional distress. Pupils need to be supported to strengthen their ability to withstand mental ill-health.

Specialist medical and emotional support needs to be provided for the increasing recognition of a plethora of conditions, impairments and behaviours pupils exhibit. In a classroom of thirty pupils it is likely there are one or more pupils showing signs of one or more of the following: clinical depression, self-harm, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),  hyperactivity (ADHD), eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia),  obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), autism (ASD), oppositional defiance disorder (ODD), bi-polar disorder, withdrawal, low self-esteem, apathy, aggression, anti-social personality disorder, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and psychosis.

It is relevant to keep in mind some of these conditions show themselves more in older children, but that younger children should have a general awareness of difficulties they could be facing as they grow older.

The wider environment

A useful inclusion in the Emotions learning domain is the development of emotionally positive responses to the wider environment. There is a huge emotional disconnect to the environment, especially for children living in cities and cut off from the living world outside of cities. Even for children living in the countryside, there is little hands-on involvement in the living world which sustains human living.

There is a job to be done to engender greater feelings of environmental empathy through greater understanding of the importance of animal and plant life to humans. A step to take is to make the learning about plants and animals as practical as possible and more than a ‘study of’ through books, video clips and pictures.

The PSHE Association

The PSHE Association provides a detailed emotional development programme on its website as part of its relationships programme under the title ‘Core Themes 2: Relationships’.

MAC makes emotional development a priority in its own right to emphasise the need for children to be emotional strong within themselves.

In MAC the impact of others on an individual’s emotions is taken into account, but the primary focus is children learning to manage their emotions in relation to themselves first and foremost.

[Back to top of page]