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Do you have a terrible-two or a three-nager? How about a five-year-old who seems to be going on sixteen? You then undoubtedly are familiar with the entire spectrum of emotions experienced in the early years. While the epic meltdowns experienced in these years are difficult for us grown-ups, it is important to remember that the emotions that stimulate this response are extremely difficult for our little ones too.
The first years of life are full of firsts, and with that, every time a young child has an experience, it teaches them something about themselves, the world, the people and things in their environments, and their place in the world. These early lessons and first experiences with the world include first experiences with emotions, and as we know, emotions can be extremely powerful.
The ability to regulate emotions develops as a child’s brain develops. This means that in the first few years children are not yet equipped with the tools to handle their feelings. Just as children need to be taught or given the tools to master certain academic skills like addition and subtraction, they need the tools to process and handle their feelings.
The Museum is an excellent environment to put some of the following tips into practice. We are a judgement-free zone! We see it all, from the tired and hangry, to disaster of not being able to use ALL of the triangle Magna-Tiles. Don’t worry, you are surrounded by others who have been there, and we are here to support you on this journey!
Here are some things to try:
Whether your child is happy, sad, excited, or frustrated, name the emotion they are feeling. These are all new vocabulary words. Helping them to learn how to identify their feelings is a powerful tool. At this stage keep it simple, “I can see you are frustrated. You worked really hard on that tower and it fell down.” “You are so excited! We had a lot of fun playing with bubbles today, didn’t we?”
It does no good to make a child feel bad about their feelings even if the behavioral response they have is not…ideal. They need to know that we all have feelings. Tell them how you are feeling! “I get mad too sometimes….” “It makes me really happy when…”
Instead of focusing on what they should not do when they are upset, give them something they can do. “I see that you are mad; but you cannot push your brother, but you can squeeze this ball.” This is another time when modeling is important. Model your own strategies for dealing with emotions. “Sometimes when I am frustrated I need to take a deep breath and count to three.”
Practice your Turtle
This is a great technique to practice.
Step 1 – Think like a turtle.
Step 2 – Stop, keep your hands, your body, and your yelling to yourself.
Step 3 – Tuck yourself inside of your shell and take 3 deep breaths. (Inhale, smell your flower; exhale, blow up your balloon, are good prompts for deep breathing.)
Step 4 – Come out when you are calm and ready to think of a solution or a way to make it better.
Still need more support? One of my favorite resources is the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/resources/strategies.html This website is packed with user-friendly tools. You can also use the hashtag #PlayIQwithDCM on our social media pages to ask me a question or share a story with me. I would love to hear from you!