Learning about emotions and how to manage and express feelings is one of the most important tasks of childhood. This involves being able to develop children's understanding so that children can begin to be able to label feelings, understand and control their emotions. Helping children to define and to cope with their emotions is not only beneficial for their psychological wellbeing but also for their social development.
Children will need to express their emotions as part of the socialising process and will do so in many ways - the important thing is that they learn to do this in socially acceptable ways. Educators need to be responsive and sensitive in order to assist children to display and manage their emotions in socially acceptable ways. Some strategies you can include:
· Model appropriate expressions of all feelings yourself – “I am so happy that you brought in your new book to show us”;
· Ensure children are given clear explanations as to why unacceptable expressions of feelings will not be tolerated - “Hitting hurts. We don’t like hitting. Use your words to tell him ‘I don’t like it’ instead”;
· Acknowledge and respond positively to a child’s attempts to express emotions in a more positive way - “I really like the way you asked Billy for the bucket back. That is much better than hitting”;
· Teach and model “I-messages” – “It worries me (your feelings) when I see you running inside (what is happening?) because you may fall and hurt yourself (the reason). I would like you to walk inside (behaviour expected)
· Observe and acknowledge all attempts at socially acceptable ways of expressing emotions “It was very kind that you helped Jo open his lunchbox since he has a sore finger:
· Let children know it is OK to be angry, mad, sad etc and that they can express their feelings openly in the childcare environment - “It is OK to cry. I know how upset you are that your friend Nina isn't coming back”;
· Understand that some children do not know how or may not want to express their feelings. Provide opportunities and the environment, but do not force the child into talking about their feelings.
The environment that you provide for children conveys a strong message about the way you feel about helping children to release feelings. The following play areas encourage children to express emotions and should be available on a daily basis. Both the indoor and outdoor environment needs to be set up to encourage children to manage their feelings in socially acceptable ways, as some children feel more comfortable in either of these environments:
· Dramatic play area where children can act out feelings and emotions
· Play dough is a manipulative material that can be pounded, squeezed, pinched or massaged for a release of feelings
· A quiet an aesthetically pleasing area where children can retreat for some solitude
· Puppets and other toys to enable children to role play situations where they can express emotions
· Books, stories and pictures to help children deal with issues
· Creative play experiences such as painting, drawing, finger painting, collage, crayons, chalk, clay. This will all allow children to have sensory and hands on experiences which can represent their ideas and express emotions in socially acceptable ways.
· Appropriate music and movement experiences such as music, songs, rhymes, chants, humming, rocking
An important aspect of being an educator is to help children manage and express feelings, however an equally important aspect is to help children understand that just because they can label, identify or express emotions that this does not mean they will instantly go away or that the problem will be instantaneously fixed.
On a final note...
Author and lecturer, Leo Buscaglia, once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four-year old boy whose elderly next-door neighbour had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the boy went to the old gentlemen and quietly climbed into his lap and just sat. Later, when his mother asked him what he said to the neighbour, the little boy said, "Nothing! I just helped him cry."
Sometimes our ability to communicate is most profound when we say nothing at all. What we need most is someone who understands us and communicates that they care about us. Even at a young age, this little boy recognized the value of expressing feelings, especially difficult ones, in a respectful way.
© ACCCO 2012