Helping Children Deal With Big Emotions
The other day in the gym, a group of children were rolling a large exercise ball. A younger child approached and tried to jump on top of the ball. The boys yelled, “No! Stop!” A tug of war over the ball ensued. A teacher stepped in, validating that the boys must feel frustrated that someone tried to take the ball they were using. The teacher then helped the boys use their words to tell the other child that he can have a turn when they are finished. The younger child was disappointed that he had to wait, so he crumpled to the floor and began to cry loudly. The teacher acknowledged that he was very angry, and understood that it is hard to wait our turn. She sat with him while he cried, then prompted him to count to ten.
Just a typical day in the life of a preschooler.
Helping children develop social-emotional skills is the heart of an effective preschool program. Children who have strong social-emotional health tend to be happier, create positive peer relationships, have a greater motivation to learn, and are more successful in school. Teachers must be intentional in teaching children how to regulate their emotions and develop emotional competence. Teachers can help children identify and name their big emotions, model how to monitor and regulate these emotions, and communicate their wants and needs effectively during an emotional experience. Reading children’s books, using puppets for role-playing, modeling appropriate behavior, and taking advantage of a “teachable moment” are ways that teachers can help children develop emotional competence.
A home-school collaboration is crucial to foster social-emotional development. Parents can also offer support and strategies to help children become emotionally competent. Some things to try at home are:
TALK IT OUT- Give your child words to use during an emotional experience. For example, when you lose your phone for the third time this morning, say “I am so frustrated! I can’t find my phone!” Name a variety of emotions as you talk with your child. Encourage him/her to use this language during emotional times. “I am angry that my toy got broken!” It may also be helpful to have a picture chart of various emotions for children to refer to during an emotional experience.
PLAY, MAKE, CREATE- Games where children take turns, cooperate, and listen to one another will help children practice these social skills. Art allows children an outlet for expressing themselves through a creative language. These fun experiences are a great time to talk with your child about their emotions and how to regulate these emotions while they are in a calm and receptive state.
* Play Simon Says, Red Light, Green Light, or do a Freeze Dance.
* Make puppets and act out social situations.
* Make a feelings collage- Cut out faces in a magazine and glue them on a piece of paper. Talk with your child about what emotions they see and what might be making the people feel that way.
READ A BOOK- Some of my favorites:
My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss
Mouse Was Mad by Linda Urban
When I’m Feeling Sad by Trace Mooney
When Sophie Gets Angry– Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang
How Do Dinosaurs Play with Their Friends? by Jane Yolen
Listening to My Body by Gabi Garcia
Mindful Mantras: I Can Handle It! by Laurie Wright
CHILL OUT- When your child is feeling big emotions, help him/her find ways to cool down.
* Find a soft spot for your child to go when he/she needs to calm down. Enrich this space with calm music, offer items to focus on visually such as a lava lamp, glitter bottle, or a sand timer. Pinwheels and bubbles can also be added to help take deep breaths.
* Model deep breathing techniques, such as “The Chicken Breath,” “The Iron Man,” or even counting backwards from ten.
* When your child is ready, be there for a BIG HUG- that deep pressure feels good and helps children refocus. Plus, it is important for your child to know that we love them before, during, and after a big emotional outburst.
As parents and teachers work together to promote positive social-emotional development, we will begin to see happy, well-adjusted children who are better able to manage and express their emotions during conflicts and social situations.