Enabling early years to express their emotions
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Enabling early years to express their emotions

10 June 2020 By Catherine Chell from Learn Well

early years leader playing with child

As we think about returning to school and welcoming back a sense of normality , it’s worth taking some time to think about the very different experiences the children in your care will have had during lockdown and the types of emotions they may be struggling to process.

For some, there will have been endless days for play with siblings, in a garden full of spring sunshine and parents who have time and energy to be imaginative and playful with them. For others, there will have been little time outdoors, cramped living conditions, fraught tempers and days that seemed endless in a bad way.  After all, they will have experienced big changes and seen a lot of uncertainty and anxiety in the adults around them.

So it’s important to remember, these little ones you are welcoming back are not the same as they were ten weeks ago.

Some will bounce through your door full of excitement and enthusiasm, others will be timid and anxious, and some will barge in cross with you and the world around them.

And it’s your job to help each child on their journey; to see beyond their behaviour to the emotions being processed in their little hearts. Whether it’s positive emotions or negative emotions, you need to be able to help them recognise and process them.

So where would I begin? Well I would begin with YOU. Take some time to think about how you have felt over these past few months. Write down your feelings, think about how you have processed them, what you have learnt from them, what you might have changed because of them and, importantly, how you feel now.

In order to be there for each of the children in your class or group, you need to be in a good place yourself. You need to be a calm oasis of kindness. So, start each day well and end each day with some moments of reflection; what went well, what you can do differently tomorrow. And don’t be too hard on yourself either! You are managing a lot of emotions too.

Studies show that talking about and naming emotions reduces their impact and helps us process them. But to talk about emotions, children need to be able recognise them, they need words to help describe them, they need to feel that it is safe to talk, and they need help to understand and process them. Our full range of feelings gives us valuable information about ourselves. For example, we feel angry if we think we are on the receiving end of injustice, or if our boundaries have been violated. We feel sad if we are bereaved of someone we love or have another kind of loss. Envy tells us what we want in life. Fear alerts us to danger and so on.

Help children make friends with their feelings:

  • Set aside some time each day over the coming weeks to explore a new emotion.
  • Get creative with the children and make displays around your classroom or setting that feature emotions. What makes us happy? What we can do when we feel sad.
  • When it comes to story time, ask the children how they think the characters are feeling as you read it. How do you think Jack felt as he reached the top of the beanstalk? Was Cinderella happy about being left behind? How would you feel if you set out on a bear hunt?
  • Have resources around your setting or classroom that show emotions and make them an accepted part of everyday play.
  • Share what you are doing each day with parents and carers, so that they understand and can support children at home.
  • Remember that children who need the most love and support often ask for it in the most challenging way.

All emotions are valid, though some are more pleasant to experience than others! Helping children understand what happens in their bodies when feelings are aroused, for example when our palms get sweaty or our hearts beat faster we might be feeling anxious. Feelings are a normal and healthy part of life experienced by all of us. The most important thing we can do to support the emotional development of children is to be accepting, empathic, warm and playful so that children are not alone with their experiences.

Another great way to help children understand their emotions, is to use resources. Here are some products that can help children recognise their feelings;

  • Block Heads characters Set 1 and Set 2- The activity book included allows children to understand different feelings through a variety of different stimulus and make connections between their reactions, how they make themselves feel and how they make others feel. 
  • Mirror Me Activity Cards - Help children make associations between their emotions and how it affect their behaviour focussing on facial expressions and body language, including eight different emotions to help them build an understanding of an array of feelings. 
  • Bag of Buddies - These allow children to choose a 'buddy' that most suits how they're feeling that day, it also gives them the responsibility to look after their 'buddy' and process why they might feel such a way, they're a great way to talk through.

Feelings really do matter, so take time to care for your own heart so that you can keep on giving and supporting every day to the children in your care.  Remember that an emotionally healthy person who experiences a range of feelings will be able to express and think about them and in this way not get stuck in them. They will:

  • Feel the emotion
  • Recognise and talk about it
  • Reflect on their experience and the meaning of the feeling
  • Take appropriate action

For more help and ideas for activities that support children's emotional understanding, view our full range of emotions resources!

Categories: Early Years , Education

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