If you read my blogs, attend any of the workshops I facilitate, or speak to me on a consistent basis, you know I am a passionate advocate for emotional health. Recently I had to have a medical procedure done that made me nervous. Driving to the hospital, I listened to what calmed me. AC/DC, Tom Petty, Santana with Rob Thomas was on my playlist that morning. Not your typical “calming” music but this is what works for me. To calm my spirit, I needed guitar and drums. Having that rhythm eased my nerves and assisted my body in maintaining a rhythm. My husband, on the other hand, desires classical music. The symphony eases his nerves. Needless to say, he wasn’t very calm that morning.
Going through this experience really caused me to reflect on the experiences of young children. What materials do children have to assist them in self-comforting? How can adults help children achieve successful emotional development? Typically adults think if quiet soothing music is played children will calm down. This is not true for all children.
Some children may need to yell it out. Think about it. Something happens that really causes you to be angry. You realize you need to calm down. Is listening to Mozart the first thing that pops in your mind? Or do you think about going to your car and having a good scream? Some children may need to be physical. Again, think about it from an adult perspective. Ever had a day where your muscles were just so tight? Ever feel so much stress your shoulders touch your ears and you can’t make them go down? Is sitting on the couch the first thing you think of that will help? Or do you think of doing something physical? Does yoga or stretching come to mind? Does ripping a piece of paper help? How about stomping on bubble wrap?
Here’s what I think: as adults, we understand where to tantrum. We know we shouldn’t tantrum in the middle of the store because there are only two check-out lanes open. We know we shouldn’t tantrum in front of the children. We know where it’s safe to show emotions that may be socially unacceptable. Young children do not have that understanding yet. Young children live in the moment. It’s the adult’s job to assist young children in expressing emotions in an acceptable way.
We should first be accepting of the emotions. It’s ok to be happy. It’s ok to be frustrated. It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to be so angry tears trickle down your face. Understanding the emotion and labeling them for children is very important. Young children do not always have the words to say how they are feeling. Even school-age children may struggle with pinpointing a specific word to describe what they are feeling. Assigning a label is a great first step.
We should also provide children the opportunity to express their emotions in a safe environment. If a child needs to stretch, punch, scream, where can he do it? Yes, I just said let a child scream. This is where responsive caregiving comes in. I’m not saying let every child scream all day long. I’m saying have a relationship with the children in your care so you know what each child needs to do to express emotions in a healthy way.
Being able to express emotions in a healthy way will impact that child for the rest of his life.