Helping Children Identify and Manage Their Feelings
Tips for Teachers
Spring is such an inspiring time of year! Especially for those living in a cold climate, it is always exciting to see the crocuses and daffodils emerge from the ground to give the landscape a burst of color after a long period of greys and browns.
This feeling of excitement and optimism motivates me to share my passion for supporting children to enjoy their world and their experiences in it, and understanding feelings is essential to this process. Young children often know the three basic feelings: mad, glad, sad. But there are so many more feelings to understand! Frustration, worry, surprise, disappointment, jealousy, excitement, affection, caring, and more...we all want children to learn to develop impulse control and self regulation skills. When they aren’t really aware of what they are feeling, this is a difficult task to accomplish.
When teachers see a child’s behavior, labeling the feeling the teacher observes can be most helpful. “Oh my goodness, you are trying to make a ball out of the play dough and it isn’t working out the way you want! That is so frustrating when you can’t do what you are trying to do! Sometimes when children are frustrated they throw their play dough. I can show you a way to roll the play dough into a ball that might be easier for you...bring it over to me and we can work on it together.” Or, “You were disappointed when I said it wasn’t your turn to be line leader and then you stomped your feet and yelled “No!” when your friend asked you to pass a crayon to him...it’s hard to be nice when you are feeling disappointed about not being able to have the job you really like. I see a job that needs doing right now! The ivy plant is so dry...maybe you and Joey could go get the watering can and take turns watering it together! I’ll come with you.”
In this way, teachers both label the feelings children are feeling and help them solve problems at the same time. The more children recognize and understand their feelings, the better they will be able to manage and control their behavior. Another important principle being displayed by the teachers in these examples is that they are showing children how their feelings inside are connected to what they do, another important lesson. This is an important understanding that helps children eventually learn to be reflective about their behavior...understanding that their feelings inside result in behaviors that can have an effect on others. It’s a long process that takes time and patience on our part, but how wonderful to know that we are enabling children to manage their feelings and experience mastery in this critical realm of development!
Tips for Parents
This process of helping children learn to understand and manage their feelings is equally critical for parents. Sometimes it can be hard for parents to stop and think about labeling a child’s feelings when his/her behavior needs to be limited...e.g., when she just hit her sibling. Yet after intervening to prevent further physical hurting, one can say: “It looks like you were jealous that I was helping Samantha build with these blocks and maybe you wanted some attention, too. It’s hard for kids when parents pay attention to someone else sometimes. But hitting is never okay. You can tell me that you want to play with me too, or just come and give me a hug or ask to sit in my lap if you’d like! I’m always happy to be with you too.” In this way, the parent accomplishes the task of limiting the behavior while also providing new strategies for the child to use and an understanding of what internal feeling motivated that aggressive behavior. Understanding and appropriately handling one’s feelings is a big task, but as children to begin to master this, everyone in the family will experience more joy and less stress! They could even celebrate by picking some daffodils together in the yard!