Emotions are surprisingly difficult for little ones to handle.
This becomes challenging, especially in their toddler years, when they start having big feelings and emotions but lack the words to explain themselves. At this age, they are not developmentally ready to regulate their own emotions.
Outside of preschool class time, how can parents step in to gently help children understand and express their feelings, so that they can find their emotional footing?
Equip your preschooler with the right words
How can we teach our children about emotions?
Research tells us that being able to name a feeling helps in managing that feeling. Sportscasting is a great way to help your children understand how they are feeling – and why they feel that way.
For example, if they are getting upset about having to leave the playground, acknowledge their feelings by sportscasting. You may say things like: “You must be feeling sad and disappointed to leave your friends behind.”
Guiding your preschooler to identify their feelings can help them explain themselves better the next time they feel the same way.
Own your feelings to your preschooler
Modelling ideal behaviour and owning your feelings to your children shows them how they should, in turn, manage their own emotions.
If someone cuts you off on the road or jumps your queue, it is a good idea to talk about your feelings! You might say: “I’m feeling really angry right now because that person was not fair to me. I wish he hadn’t done that. I’m going to take a few deep breaths to calm down.”
Direct your children to look at your facial expressions or body language, especially for positive feelings.
Read stories about emotions to your preschooler
There are many great stories that talk about emotions, starting with the public libraries and the selections on your preschool’s shelves.
Read to your child regularly, and point out how the characters may feel strongly about the events in the story. Storybooks may also prepare children for certain scenarios – for example, a classmate snatching a favourite toy, or being tired after a long day at school.
Many children respond better to vivid illustrations and beloved characters in books rather than hypothetical scenarios.
The Color Monster: A Story About Emotions by Anna Llenas is a great start for children aged 4 to 8 years of age. Daniel Tiger is another wonderful story for younger children that provides them with the words to explain their emotions and little songs that teach them how to cope with their big feelings.
Check in with your preschooler’s feelings often
Do a regular check in by asking your children about their emotions: how they feel throughout the day, or comment on how they feel.
Again, this should be done for positive feelings as well as negative ones.
After a satisfying meal, you might say: “Wow, it looks like you’re really full and happy! That bowl of noodles was really tasty, wasn’t it?” In the same vein, check in early and quickly when you see your child’s body language or expression change. The faster you address their feelings when they are just starting to express them, the better you can help them regulate and talk them out.
In Kiddiwinkie Schoolhouse, teachers dedicate special pockets of time to introduce exercises that help children pay close attention to emotional needs. The teachers equip children with various handy strategies that help them calm down, find focus, and show kindness and patience with others and themselves. This child-centred approach ensures that children are given the right support to understand and manage their own big feelings.
How can the best preschools in Singapore help?
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