I mentioned in the previous blog, School Readiness – Part One, that emotional self-regulation was a challenge for little ones and it is, and yes in part it is also developmental. But while it is a difficult thing to establish it is truly vital for future learning. When we are learning, we will face challenges and we need to be able to handle them. Whether these challenges are with our own learning or with the other people in our learning environment.
School is a new world. Even if your child has been to child care or kindergarten, school is different. It requires concentration and focus around topic that may be very new to your child, they may not have chosen, may cause them frustration, or they may find challenging. School is exhausting, the mental requirements find many little ones sleeping in the car on the way home, going to bed earlier or being generally grumpy in the afternoon.
Learning is hard. I think about when I started to learn how to drive a manual car and I was all sorts of frustrated. My instructor kept saying, “listen to the car”, and I was like, “listen to what?”, I just didn’t get it. I became so overwhelmed that I gave up for quite a while, it was too hard. This is also how many of our little people feel when they start formal learning. It is all so new and they can become frustrated and overwhelmed with what they are being asked to do.
Emotional self-regulation is the ability to react to situations in a manner that is considered acceptable for their age and the relevant scenario. For example, the emotional response you would expect to see from an adult if they spill their coffee would be very different to what you would expect if a toddler lost their dummy, although many adults may feel like crying when they spill their coffee... It is the ability to be flexible and tolerate different emotions by managing the way we deal with them.
So… What do we do about it? A number of things. The first and I believe most important thing is helping our children to identify their feelings and the situation that is making them feel that way. Spending time talking with your child about their feelings is the most important thing you can do. Children need to feel they are safe, there is trust and care and they are heard.
What is happening?
How is it making you feel?
What can we do about it?
The identification of emotions is a big one. Many children speak only of happy, sad or angry. But feeling frustrated, fearful, worried, confused, annoyed, incapable and disappointed are all emotions that can be felt when faced with a challenge or problem and they need to be unpacked. Our Happy Explorers Feelings Hunt is a great way to help little ones visualise and identify various feelings.
What does the emotion word mean?
What does it look like in action? Can you act out a scenario?
What does your body do when you feel this way?
What can you do about it?
Role play or acting out a scenario is such a positive and clear way for your children to see and understand what is happening. Our puppets in our Feelings Box were a very deliberate choice as the use of puppets helps children to feel relaxed because it is the puppet not them doing the talking and acting. It allows them to be free and open and play a role without fear of being judged.
So we’ve spent time unpacking the emotion words. We’ve role played scenarios or situations which make us feel different things. We need to talk about different ways to deal with emotions.
Belly breathing is one of our favourites and there is a wonderful Sesame Street song that we have played to Master H. Now all we have to say is belly breathe and he stops and takes deep breaths. The idea behind this is to pay attention to how your body is feeling when you get frustrated, angry or upset. By stopping and trying to reach a point of calm, it makes it easier to approach the problem in a productive way.
Sometimes children need to be directed to find a place to calm down. At home you might create your own calm space, this was one of our activities in our Happy Explorers Feelings Box. This is not time out but rather somewhere that your child feels comfortable and safe so they can regain themselves. Talking with your child about what makes them calm helps them to find their own space in other situations. It might be that they like to sit on the grass, or have a hug, find a quiet place or get a favourite toy.
Another step is to look at the scale of feelings or the scale of problems. All feelings are valid and all problems are their own. There are many scales that you can simply Google and print off, however, again I would do this with your child. Sit down and talk about the different emotions or problems and which ones are easy to handle by yourself and which ones you need help with. You could create a list of little problems and big problems, I wrote the wrong letter in my writing, little problem, I fell over and cut my leg, big problem. Also, look at sorting feelings, for example, if I am feeling calm all is good, I might then be frustrated with something but I’m ok to try again, if I feel I am incapable of handling the situation by myself then I need to ask for help.
Is it a little problem or a big problem?
Is it a happy feeling or a scary feeling?
Asking for help is very important to teach your little one. They need to know that they will be heard and understood. They do not have to solve every problem by themselves, but they do need to understand what they should try to do first. Giving them strategies to try before they seek help will build their toolkit.
Identify the problem and feeling
Find a calm down space
Ask a friend to help
Ask a grown up to help
I have also discussed the idea of Kid’s Big Emotions in a previous blog where I highlighted the fact that we use picture story books a lot to assist our little man in identifying how he is feeling. You can also head to our Facebook page – for more articles and ideas to help emotional development, along with our website – happy-explorers.com, where you will find our Feelings Box to purchase.
As always, I would love your feedback and thoughts. What have you tried? What has worked for you?