Preschoolers have very strong emotions; in addition to being active, rambunctious, noisy and having short attention spans! These emotions can be hard for a child to process. First we need to put a label to the emotion. “You are happy” (sad, mad, frustrated, scared, surprised, etc) It is NOT the job of the parent to “fix” it. They need to learn to process the feeling, letting the emotion run its course. Given the chance to express their feelings, children will learn that they are ok. Children cannot be happy all the time. Just like all humans, they experience emotions, problems and difficult times. It is our job as adults to help children learn to accept feelings, that they are ok and everyone has them. We might say “You are mad, he took your toy and that made you mad. Can I help you? When you are ready I am here to help.” The support is there, but not the need to “fix it”, the emotion is valid, whether it is happy or not. Once we normalize emotions, children can learn how to process them.
We talk a lot about social emotional learning at preschool. How important it is for children to learn to problem solving, to handle conflict in a positive manner, how to say what they need to say and how to listen to others. These skills serve us throughout our lives. Here are some steps to follow that we find to be very effective in helping children manage their emotions.
- Label the emotion. “You are feeling________.”
- “When you are ready to talk, I am here.” Try not to engage until the child is calming down. When in the middle of a huge emotion, the child is all in. They don’t hear you, cannot be reasoned with and often feel scared or concerned about their emotion. Good ways to settle down include taking deep breaths, counting to 10, rubbing the child’s back, offering a drink of water or snuggling until the child calms down.
- Keep telling the child “I am here; I understand you are feeling_____, we can talk when you are ready.”
- Once the child is calm, you can encourage the child to use words to tell you what is wrong, listen and ask what they think they could do to solve the problem.