Tag Archives: social emotional development

Five Steps to End a Temper Tantrum

Temper tantrums can be difficult to deal with for everyone involved. Many times children are told to “Stop crying,” or “You’re okay,” when they are not okay. Adults tend to simply want these big emotions to stop, which is very understandable. It can feel extremely uncomfortable to be around anyone who is in a not-so-great mood. Therefore it is important for caregivers in an early childhood classroom to help children by supporting and teaching them about emotions, especially the not-so-fun ones.

It's important for caregivers to help children by supporting and teaching them about emotions, especially the not- so- fun ones!

It’s important for caregivers to help children by supporting and teaching them about emotions, especially the not-so-fun ones!

Here are five steps that can help children—and teachers—through a temper tantrum:

  1. Be compassionate and be there for the child. Let the child know that you understand that they are upset and that you want to help them. We have all been frustrated and angry enough that we want to scream, grit our teeth, or maybe even throw something across the room. As adults, we sometimes still have a hard time dealing with disappointment or staying calm when something isn’t going our way. Why would we expect children to be so?
  1. Label the emotion behind the tantrum. Typically when children are in the midst of a temper tantrum they are ANGRY. Not sad, but full on angry. They may also be feeling disappointed, frustrated, and often times misunderstood. This is okay! Help them by labeling what they may be feeling: “I can see that you are angry. You really want that toy.”
  1. Validate their feelings. Let them know you understand.
    “It is really hard to wait your turn. The sensory table is a lot of fun. Would you like to ____ while you wait?” Pick a toy or activity that the child likes to do.
  1. Help them learn how to express themselves. It is easy to sit back as a child expresses emotions such as happiness, excitement, and contentment. It is harder when they are feeling irritated, sad, and just plain mad! How can you help children safely express their “negative” emotions? What can they say or do to deal with these big feelings? When they are happy, children laugh. We do not stop them from laughing. It is okay for a child to cry when they are sad. When they are excited, children may jump up and down. How can we make it okay for a child to safely throw something when they are angry? How can we help them feel successful no matter what they may be feeling?
  1. Let it be. Realize that you do not have to stop the temper tantrum. Sometimes children just need time. When children know they are in a safe, loving environment, they will learn how to calm down. They will know that you will be there for them. This is when the real magic will happen.

Young children feel all the same emotions that adults feel but they do not know what those emotions are actually called. They don’t know how to say “I am angry” or “I am getting frustrated!” They feel the emotion but it is up to adults to teach them about feelings and emotions and what is socially acceptable. We all feel emotions, whether they are “positive or negative,” and it is how we deal with those emotions that help us to be socially successful. After all, who doesn’t want children to be successful?

Birthday party lists and other social interactions

Friends

Learning how to interact with other children is part of social development!

If you are a provider in a room full of preschool children, the chances that you have heard the words “you can’t come to my birthday party” are about as good as the chances that you have seen rain the past few weeks. I was in a preschool classroom recently and had an interesting observation. A three-year-old child walked into the classroom and went straight to the writing center. He announced to other children who also walked to the writing center that he was making a list of children that could come to his birthday party and another list of children who could not come. He started pointing to each child, saying their names and identifying which list that child would go on. He then made some marks on a piece of paper, depending on which list that child was going on. Naturally, as children heard their name being announced, they came to see what the child was doing so after just a minute or two, he had quite a crowd. Children who were on the list to be able to come to his party seemed proud, while the others seem disappointed. I began thinking.

While this interaction and similar interactions can be very hurtful, it’s also part of social development. Probably, this child won’t grow up to be a bully. He was starting to explore power within his friendships in the classroom. I noticed that all boys made the list of coming to the party and all girls (with the exception of one) made the list of not coming to the party. I wonder if this was a way of showing loyalty and protection of his relationships (versus intentionally trying to exclude children). That being said, caregivers and teachers have a role in supporting pro-social behavior; that is to help this child and others who have said similar things be aware of how their behavior can be hurtful.

As I was reflecting about this experience, I recalled a blog I had once read about “girl-power” that had five suggestions that would be very appropriate in an early childhood program or for those working with children (as this is not a gender specific issue):

  1. Teach language that is respectful. Help children hear the difference between “I don’t want to play with you” and “I’m not ready to play with anyone yet.”
  2. Show children how allowing others to play versus excluding could add to their play. “If you let a friend help you build the tower you may get it even taller and you’ll have a friend to help clean up.”
  3. Talk about qualities of being a good friend. (In the classroom mentioned above, the children are reminded to ask themselves two questions, “Is this kind? Is this safe?”)
  4. Ask children who are using hurtful language how they would feel. This isn’t to shame the child or single them out. Get on the child’s level, speak in a soft voice that only he or she can hear.
  5. Encourage children to play with new friends and try new things.

If wasn’t long before the teacher in the classroom walked over to the writing center to talk to the boy making the lists. She reminded him of the questions to ask; is this kind and is this safe? She also asked him how he would feel if his name was on a list to not go to a birthday party. He didn’t say anything for a moment and then said it would make him sad. The teacher asked how he thought the children were feeling who were on the list to not come to his party. He said, “Sad.” He then said all the children could come to his party and put the lists away before choosing another work.

“Good job!” …Good job doing what?

Many kindergarten teachers will tell you they want their new students to come to school with many tools in their toolbox, but at the top of their list is emotional confidence and social skills. Current research demonstrates that children with strong emotional and social foundations are more likely to be successful learners for a lifetime. Early childhood educators recognize how important this is and try to help foster these skills in many ways. One of these ways is through praise. I often hear teachers use statements like, “Good job!” or “Great work!”, but are these phrases enough? What does a child internalize when an adult says “Good job!”?

What does it mean to a child when you just say "Good job!"?

What does it mean to a child when you just say “Good job!”?

As children go through their day hearing these same phrases repeated to everyone in the classroom, it becomes generic. It’s not meaningful, it’s not concrete. Some children may not even realize what they did to earn that praise. By using these generic statements, we are missing an opportunity to help build a strong foundation for emotional and social development.

Praises should meaningful to that individual child, they should be concrete, and they should re-enforce what that child did that was so great. Praises should be encouraging and create motivation within the child. Attaching the child’s action to the phrase “Good job” is a great way to make this praise authentic and personal. This strategy will also allow other children to hear positive statements regarding classroom expectations and social interactions.

Think about what that child did that was impressive before speaking. Did the child use their words to problem solve or offer a hug to a classmate feeling sad? Did the child write the first letter in their name or build a tall structure in the block area? Or did the child explore paint in a new way by mixing and creating new colors? All of these accomplishments feel big to the child. If educators acknowledge these accomplishments in a concrete way, it will empower the child and promote emotional and social development. Children’s emotional and social development will flourish as they begin to genuinely understand WHAT they did that was “great!”

Why does a child react negatively to change?

When I am talking to adults about children and their experiences, I typically try to think of ideas on how to connect the “adult life” to the child. I want adults to think of their own experiences and feelings and realize that children go through the same process.

Sometimes children react negatively to the slightest change in the classroom. What's a teacher to do?

For example, I recently finished 6 weeks of radiation therapy. Every Monday I would have to see the doctor after my treatment. There is a group of nurses that work in the department, so I could have 1 of 3 people take care of me. The first time I went Amy, the nurse, took my vitals, walked me to the exam room, and prepped me for the doctor. After that visit, I was always a little aggravated if Amy wasn’t the one going to take care of me. Even though we had only met once, she was “my person”. She was the one who started off my relationship with the doctor. She set the tone for the whole appointment. If I didn’t get to see her, the visit wasn’t as comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, the other nurses were completely competent. They were nice and friendly. They just weren’t Amy.

As I thought about that it really hit me that as an adult, I had a choice. I could choose my attitude during my visits. I could choose to be happy about the care I was receiving. I always received quality care, regardless of the nurse. Or, I could choose to be mad that Amy wasn’t available for me.

Compare this to a young child. Can a young child choose to make the best out of any situation? My belief is no, they can’t. Young children are still learning how to self-regulate. Think about the young child who has a primary caregiver. Every day this caregiver is with the child–feeding, diapering/toileting, talking. Then one day the caregiver isn’t there. What is done to help this child adjust? Is the absence of the caregiver explained to the child? Is the child prepped for the caregiver’s absence? What do the adults do to respect the relationship between the child and the caregiver?

Can some young children self-regulate? Of course, some children have a temperament that is easy going and they just go with the flow. Other children, however, have a harder time regulating their emotions, regardless of their age. I believe as adults, we should prepare children for changes and transitions regardless of temperament and age. When the school-age teacher is leaving for the day and another teacher is coming in, the children should be informed of that change. When the toddler teacher is going on lunch break, the children should be told the teacher is leaving and if the teacher will be back. This is just respectful. The children rely on the adult for security. That security means that the children can interact and learn throughout the day. Without security, learning won’t happen.

 

–Christine

It’s okay to cry!

Few things are more distressing than seeing a child hurt and crying. The natural response for teachers, parents and other adults is to hug and say: “Hush. Don’t cry. Everything will be all right.” But these words don’t allow children to process their emotions. The message they hear is: “Stop now. There’s nothing to cry about.” This makes the little one cry even more since his inner-self needs to prove there is something to cry about.

Helping children "own" their emotion is vital to healthy development!

Last week as I embarked on my routine grocery shopping experience, I watched two brothers fighting over who got to push the grocery cart for mom. I saw the accident coming as they moved in front of me, behind me and pushed between the carts of other shoppers. The older brother ran over the younger brother’s toes. The screams began and tears flowed down the younger brother’s cheeks immediately. Quickly, the mother picked up the crying child and gently said, “It’s okay to cry. I know it hurts. Cry until it stops hurting.” In an instant, the tears stopped. The mother noticed me standing near and simply said “I found when I give them the permission to cry, it’s often all that is needed to stop the flow of tears.”

In helping a child deal with a hurt, the importance of having a right to her feelings cannot be overstressed. Even the youngest ones pick up unspoken ideas from teachers, parents and other adults. When they sense that what they are feeling needs to be suppressed, the message is given that these emotions are unacceptable and unimportant. Phrases such as “crying is for babies” and “be a big boy” are, unfortunately, sometimes still used, and not only do they show little empathy for the child’s problem, they also do nothing to encourage self-esteem. If children are to grow up seeing themselves as worthwhile people, they need to know at an early age that feelings are neither bad nor good, they just are a natural reaction to something that’s happened, and what’s necessary is to express them and deal with them.

So when a little one in your classroom is crying, whether it’s because she fell as she was learning to walk or because he wasn’t chosen to be the line leader, stop for a moment before you begin to offer comfort. Then remember that the best way we can help these small people handle their emotions is to surround them with love and acceptance, and to say: “It’s okay to cry until it stops hurting.”

Strategies for teaching children self comfort

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.

Being able to express emotions in a healthy way will impact a child for the rest of her life.

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.

-Christine