Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 5: Naming Emotions

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbprest0n

How can parents help their child understand and express their emotions in healthy and constructive ways? First by assigning a name to the emotion the child is feeling, and encouraging conversation about what they are feeling. With a vocabulary for emotions the child now has a tool for exploring and understanding their feelings. Second by giving children the chance to determine what they are feeling and what someone else may be feeling. Third by pointing out the variety of reactions to their feelings available to them, and this can be reinforced by the parent with their own experiences in dealing with their emotions in the form of stories that serve as examples for how to react to emotions and feelings. Fourth by utilizing friends and family as examples for the child to see different ways to react to emotions.

When naming emotions it is important to use a name that is easily understandable for the child. This can be done while watching kids television shows or movies, or reading children books. The child can point out what emotion the character is feeling and how they reacted to it. Also utilizing the actual events that are taking place in their lives as examples and teaching moments for the child to identify their own emotion. If they felt sad yesterday due to some event, talk to them about what they felt and why, and have them assign a name to it. These are the beginning steps of building their vocabulary around their feelings and connecting them to their experiences. 

Communicating with the child on the possible responses available to them when experiencing emotions is vital to developing their understanding and their relationship to their feelings. The more that the child can be responsible for their own strategies for dealing with emotions the better. They should come up with how they will handle their feelings. Then parents should discuss with the child the positive and negative responses to emotions. When the child uses inappropriate expression when dealing with an emotion the parent should present healthy alternative strategies to the child that can help them with future similar situations. It is important that the child experience the negative response as a way of emphasizing why the positive response is preferred.

When children choose to talk about their feelings it is important that they be met with positivity and encouragement. Clear instruction as to what the child did right and what the child did wrong will encourage them to communicate about their feelings and feel comfortable coming to the parent for future discussions and development of their understanding. It is important that the time and space for these conversations be daily and predictable. During dinner, or game time, when the child is open to engagement on these types of topics. Throughout the day things will happen that provide topics for conversations surrounding emotions and feelings and every opportunity should be utilized to practice discussing how they felt about their day and how they should respond.

It is important that when the child is emotionally charged, that these conversations do not take place. The child should be calm and at ease when discussing their feelings and strategies for dealing with and responding to their emotions. They should associate these communications with parents as positive experiences, rather than as negative experiences attached to discipline for misbehaving. After the tantrum or emotionally charged situation, and the child is calm and ready to receive information in a positive form, the strategies above can be utilized to help the child analyze the situation, their emotions around it, and how they responded. Part 6 next week will center around emotional governance.

Regulating Emotions: Early Childhood Education Series (Pt. 4)

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbprest0n

One of the key aspects of emotional intelligence is the ability to regulate one’s own emotions. Development of the understanding of language in the process of emotional maturation is vital to children in the early childhood educational setting. The evolution of the ability to communicate is directly connected to the progress of the emotional regulation ability. Once the child has developed the language with which to identify and describe emotions, the ability to assess effective methods of handling emotionally charged situations. The language connection to emotional awareness, emotional intelligence, and emotion regulation, is the point where culture intersects with practice. Different cultures have different ways in which emotion is processed, where emotion is felt, how emotion is felt, when emotion is felt, and to whom emotion is expressed. So it is critical that early childhood educational practices within a multicultural setting take into account the varying relationships to emotion that different cultures possess. 

Socialization in early childhood educational settings is directly connected to the ability of a student to navigate relationships with peers and teachers, and is a signifier of the level of emotional competence the student demonstrates. When a child cannot regulate their emotions properly, or in accordance with societal norms, their judgment and decision making become compromised. One area where emotional regulation is important is in transitioning from one stage of life to another. In early childhood education a major milestone for the student is also an opportunity to assess which students can transition from preschool to kindergarten successfully. The successful transition is an indicator of the ability to regulate emotions, while a difficult transition may be an indicator that the student may need more support in the area of emotion regulation. However the goal should be to provide students with the tools necessary to have a successful transition to kindergarten, as this is directly correlated to the ability to access academic information. 

The ability for adults to perform cognitive tasks is connected to their ability to regulate their emotions. This is true for children as well, as planning, memory, and attention are inhibited in the student unskilled in emotional regulation. The ability to be successful in the early academic setting is tied to this skill, lacking this, students are less able to be present for and retain the information being presented. Emotional regulation is also connected to behavioral regulation, and impacts the student’s ability to complete academic tasks and assignments. 

So what does this all mean? The key takeaway is that students need to be able to respond instead of to react. A response requires forethought and planning, whereas a reaction can take place without thought and lead to undesired consequences. Once a student is equipped with the tools of forethought or emotional awareness, they can more readily attend to the various academic requirements that they may face for the rest of their lives. This is an example of the old saying, fix a big problem while it’s small. In this case while the student is small, if we can teach them to identify their emotions as well as the emotions of those around them, and then provide them with the tools for regulating their emotions, then that is one less obstacle in their path towards academic success. 

Of the categories above: emotional awareness, behavioral awareness, and social awareness, all can be placed under the umbrella of self regulation, which will be the topic next week in part 5 of this ongoing series exploring early childhood education.

Believing in People: Practical Practice in Supporting Each Other

 

 

I’d like to think that as a teacher, it’s my job to believe in people, especially when they don’t believe in themselves. But even when I’m not wearing my teacher hat, I find myself looking for the sacred in other people, looking for that one particular element that is precious and perhaps goes unseen, some overlooked dollop of goodness even we may not see in ourselves when we look in the mirror. We may miss it entirely. This, unfortunately, happens to many of us. Life batters and abuses us. We make so many mistakes we become strangers to ourselves. Perhaps we can no longer look upon ourselves with compassion and kindness. Our self-love is fraught with conditions. Negative thoughts can spirals into decisions that are not always made with our well-being at heart. That’s when we need someone to believe in us, to look into us with the loving light of compassion.

 

This is no trivial matter. Many people feel or become invisible after setbacks, withdrawing into pain and isolation.

 

Believing in someone can save a life. It is a human need to be seen and recognized. When John Legend accepted the Oscar for his song, Glory, he told everyone watching the Academy Awards that evening that he could see them. It was a powerful moment, symbolic of a soul seeking to water the goodness in our society, a flood of recognition and an outpouring of love from a public figure to nameless witnesses. It was Legend’s way of saying that the daily struggles of our lives are not in vain, acknowledging our collective journey toward a more just society. For Legend, “seeing us” was an affirmation of us, showing his belief in us, in our ability to change institutions with our awareness and activism. His simple act of seeing affirmed the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and witnessed the continued unseen struggle and toil of the many people working for societal transformation.

 

We all need to be seen. We all want someone to believe in us, in our ability to surpass self-imposed limitations and external barriers, to act with courage in the midst of our fears and doubts, to involve ourselves for the betterment of our communities, to stand with conviction. It’s not clear to me if we can believe in someone else if we can’t believe in ourselves. My hunch is that we can build up a reserve when we practice this act of loving kindness. Like a muscle, it will atrophy from disuse and strengthen with repeated exercise.

 

Essentially, this is time sowing and watering seeds. We do it for friends and family or strangers; it will form the foundation wherein we allow love and support to flow back to us. The Rev. Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist philosopher and teacher, talks about the importance of watering the seeds in oneself and others that we want to nurture. The seeds are attributes, traits or emotions. He asserts that the seeds that get the most attention, intentionally or otherwise, are the ones that will thrive. Therefore, it’s vital that we look deeply into at each other and really see the gifts therein, and to selectively water the ones that foster health and wealth in all their forms.

 

Unfortunately, if the seeds of love, peace, and joy are not watered, they will not bloom.

 

The path to connecting can take many forms. We are the bees in the garden touching every flower. Maybe it’s taking a few minutes to affirm an aspiration without interrupting. We can mentor an older woman starting something new, or listen to the dreams of young people around us. Take a moment to be kind to folks in transition or depression and recommend and promote their gifts. If you see a spark in someone, name it, because it’s one of the ways to grow a society that is strong and good: by looking into a heart and honoring those gifts. We can step up for each other when it really counts.

 

The truth is, believing in someone else sets us free. We get to leave behind our judgments, criticisms and fears and just let ourselves see the light in another person. We create an environment for ourselves where feelings of appreciation and friendship can be reciprocated. In other words, we get to be seen, supported and loved because we’ve made room for those things in our lives. Imagine the wonderful world we can create by taking time to believe in each other.

Four Great Reasons to Get a Game Night Going

 

 

While I make time to play with children as often as possible, I also love to play games with other adults. This is a time to unwind and let out my stored up sass. The benefits of play are well researched, and game night is one way to make sure you get a free booster shot of psycho-emotional wellness. As a teacher I believe we can only reinvent the world when understand the one we’re living in. This applies to the game of life. I’m almost always open to changing the rules of a game to make it more interesting, challenging or fair. I look at this as an important life skill. It’s agency at its highest potency. Like will power, we can store up skill sets and cash in when the time is right. Can I negotiate the salary I really want? How well am I at playing by the rules? What happens when I don’t get what I want? Games teach us about and help us to improve upon the parts of ourselves that we want to strengthen.

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For starters, game time involves communication. It’s a time for discussing rules, finding answers, problem solving and sharing. A new game usually requires careful reading—often out loud—and lots of review. These are core skills that can be useful when we’re proposing ideas at work or presenting to a room full of strangers. Game time is face time. There’s opportunity to try on different roles and experiment with personality.

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Some games require lots of negotiating skills. Interesting dilemmas come up when you play a game like Settlers of Catan: Should you trade with an opponent? What’s a fair trade? Whose resources should you raid? These are difficult choices that have to be made while directly facing the intended person. These are small, but not insignificant, ways of dealing with confrontation. They are opportunities to get comfortable asking for clarification, explaining complicated ideas, sticking to a hard decision or ditching a game plan that’s not working. These are real life negotiating skills that can toughen us up for when it really counts.

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Learning a new game requires patience. When I first started to play Scrabble as an adult, I thought I was a complete idiot. I no longer think that. Achieving a score of 333 points helped boost my confidence. (I still keep the scrap of paper with my winning score in the Scrabble box in case I need to charge my battery.) Scrabble is a word game, yes. But it’s also a game about strategy and knowing how to use the board to maximize points as much as it is an actual measure of the extent of one’s vocabulary. This mirrors real life. Sometimes half of what’s happening is how you’re using what you’ve got. Sometimes it takes time to see the possibilities in life and to actualize them. One doesn’t always win the first time around.

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Let’s not forget the oodles of fun to be had. There’s often a great deal of storytelling, laughter and sharing involved in a game night. Frequently, we partake of a meal together prior to the game and invest time getting to know each other throughout the play. When you play board games, it’s a time to sit around and share memories and see how others respond to setbacks and understand what makes them laugh. There’s also competition, which I think needs a positive outlet. And, if you’re really enjoying yourself, playing games with friends can also lead to higher levels of serotonin and dopamine in your system. You can start out playing a game and end up contributing to your own emotional and social wellness.