Like adults, children navigate social situations on a daily basis and need to learn to manage their emotions. It is important to start building emotional awareness and control early on, to help them better handle relationships and problem solve.
It is hard enough for adults to recognise and understand emotions in themselves, let alone for children. Calming down when upset and describing one’s feelings requires much patience. This is where parents and teachers can come in to support them. With an adult’s guidance, children will progressively learn how to manage their feelings.
The first step is to name the emotion
While words like “sanguine” or “disenchanted” may not be within grasp just yet, children can learn to use simple words to describe their feelings. As a parent or teacher, encourage them to also explain why they feel that way. For example, sharing that they feel “sad” because “I don’t want to leave mummy and go to school”. Teaching children to rationalise their feelings not only pushes them to think logically, but also builds their vocabulary.
Next, support the development of their emotional understanding
Talk with children throughout the day about how they are feeling. Emotions can be shown through facial expressions and body language – teach them this through demonstrations or books and videos. Show them that a frown denotes a negative emotion, and perhaps there could be different layers to that emotion. A smile may mean happiness, or it could mean more than that.
Different people will react differently in various situations. Discuss the different reactions that people might have and explain why that may be so. For example, why might their friend Jamie be happy when it’s storming outside while their other friend Emma may feel dejected? This is because Jamie loves playing in the rain and hearing the rain fall, but Emma is afraid of thunder and lightning.
Help them regulate their emotions
When children experience strong emotions, help them to calm down. As an adult they respect, they will (hopefully) listen when you say “It might be a good time to take a deep breath and calm down. You look like you are unhappy, would you like to tell me why?”
When the crisis (oops, tantrum) has been averted, validate your child’s efforts in calming down and invite them to share more about their problem. Reassure them that you can work through it together.
Children should also articulate their emotions with their peers. It is the first step to preventing a problem, and a step in the right direction in resolving one. Be your child’s cheerleader when they are problem-solving. As they learn to problem solve, they can focus better on tasks, learn, form friendships and navigate social situations.
Remember that this is a process
Repeated reminders and intentional practice is needed. As a parent and teacher, keep each other accountable and updated throughout the day. This will show your child that they are supported, and that they can openly communicate with you.
School management systems like LittleLives can help you keep track of your child’s progress. If you are a school administrator or teacher looking for something to help you with the above, hit us up and we can share more.