Young children experience big emotions. They might come in the form of frustration at not being able to open a door, utter joy at the sight of a butterfly, or exhaustion at the end of a long day. These emotions come rapidly and sometimes without warning.
How can parents and educators help children understand these big emotions?
That’s a question teachers in elementary schools are asking themselves, and the topic of a recent Mother Jones article. We learned more about helping school-aged children self-regulate in Part 1 of this series.
Now with Part 2, we’d like to explore helping younger children understand the emotions they are feeling. June George, Montessori educator, has tips from her experiences.
What are helpful phrases you can use to help a child label and understand their emotions?
I usually help a child verbalize their emotions by saying to them, “I can see that you are upset, angry, sad….” This helps them put names to their feelings.
Are there foundations you can have in place to help a child self-regulate, for example providing a “quiet place” to go when upset?
In the classroom, we usually ask a child to maybe sit on the thinking chair and say, “It seems that you are really upset and we can’t have a conversation when you are not ready. Why don’t you sit right here and whenever you are ready to talk, we can start our conversation.”
By doing that, you don’t create an opportunity for a confrontation. The longer you allow an opportunity for them to create a confrontation, the worse the situation will be.
What does “discipline” mean to you?
Discipline, in Montessori classroom, is self-discipline.
Ms. Wood reminds us that self-discipline is established in a young child through consistency in their environment. “Reminders and follow-through from an adult needs to happen every. single. time. Not punitive, not angry, just a consistent, gentle reminder, it (whatever it is you’re working on) will become habit. This habit is Self-Discipline.”
What are steps adults can take to lesson their reactions to BIG emotions like tantrums or crying fits?
Help children recognize their emotions and talk through how they feel. Also help them know that there are other ways of dealing with big emotions than having a tantrum or a crying fit. You could say..
“Why are you screaming? Why are you crying? Does it help you get that toy when you scream?” or “I don’t understand what you want when you scream. Can you tell me what you want?”
For more tips on helping a toddler or young child through big emotions, read ideas from Natalie Baginski, director of Toddler on the Hill: “Big Toddler Emotions“.
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