Supporting children’s personal, social and emotional development has always been a top priority within our sector, but never before has it been more important to focus on and find methods and resources to support them in understanding and coping with a broad range of emotions, particularly after such a turbulent year.
Children can display ‘big’ emotions and feelings when they are feeling scared, worried or overwhelmed and as practitioners it is our job to understand what these emotions may look like, be understanding, supportive and allow children to develop the skills necessary to understand, cope and channel their emotions effectively.
It is important to mention that all children will display different behaviours when experiencing these big emotions and these will look different for every child; some children will have a louder, more aggressive outburst, whilst other children may withdraw and process these emotions in a more subdued manner.
For us, children’s emotional wellbeing and intelligence is at the forefront of everything we do, because we cannot expect children to be able to engage, learn and retain maths, literacy and knowledge of their wider world, if they aren’t emotionally equipped to learn.
If a child is happy, secure and is confident in their environment, then they are ready to learn, but if a child is struggling to manage big emotions and feelings, they will not be able to engage appropriately until they have processed those emotions and feelings, as for very young children, these big emotions can be all-consuming and so supporting children in acknowledging and processing these emotions is key to enabling them to engage with play and learning thereafter.
If children are aware of their emotions, how certain emotions feel and are able to label them, it can be easier for them to express and thus process.
This not only enables them to be aware of their own emotions, but also allows them to develop empathy and acknowledge and support their peers.
Talking about emotions and emotional intelligence can feel a little premature when we are discussing under 5’s, but it doesn’t have to be, and introducing the language of emotions and supporting children in becoming aware of their own emotions and how to manage these, can enable children to become not only emotional resilient, but also emotionally intelligent as a result.
However, the process of supporting children in developing this awareness and understanding can be done quite simply; discussing the emotions of characters in books, using emotive language when role-playing with small world figures, acting out scenarios whilst discussing feelings and working together how these problems might be solved.
However, we must understand that we cannot ‘protect’ children from certain emotions and so avoid triggering scenarios, in order to truly understand an emotion and the corresponding feelings, children must be given the chance to feel and process the emotion first. If we were to do everything in our power to prevent children from feeling these big emotions, they will never be able to understand them in a way that will allow them to manage them effectively.
Giving children ample time and space to feel, explore and express each emotion is key to them developing the tools and knowledge of processing and understanding a varied range of emotions.
Similarly, language can also impact how a child views and processes a certain emotion, and also allows them to take ownership for the way we are feeling, so as supportive adults, we must think carefully about the language we use when discussing emotions with children as this can have a direct impact on their experience and understanding of the emotion.
We must never make a child feel ‘bad’ for feeling a certain way and the language we use is a key component of this, for example instead of saying ‘Don’t be scared’ when a child is displaying fear or apprehension, we could reframe this into a question, ‘What are you scared of?’ in order to allow the child to own and express their feelings and the trigger for this emotion simultaneously.
Using questions and placing ownership on the child and their emotion, allows the child to begin to process the emotion and develop their own understanding of where this feeling has come from, then we can support them in overcoming it; whether that be a cuddle, a comforter or just the space and time to feel and process the emotion.
By taking the emotion away from the child and telling them ‘You don’t need to cry’, does not support them emotionally, nor does it enable them to investigate and understand the emotion and its cause.
An emotionally rich environment full of supportive adults, emotive language and a range of resources that support and identify different emotions and expressions are fundamental in supporting children in becoming emotional intelligent.
Simple mindfulness activities where developmentally appropriate are also a good way of children channeling these big emotions in a positive and constructive way.
Our role as Early Years Practitioners is to provide children with the knowledge, understanding and resources to enable them to become emotionally aware and intelligent which will enable them to grow into emotionally balanced and empathetic young people.
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