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Supporting our Children's Strong Emotions

by Dr. Karen Page


Supporting our Children's Strong Emotions
PreK is a period of time where children are learning how to socialize and what their boundaries are amongst many other skills such as communication and language.

One behavior that is common is pushing and hitting and outbursts of anger and this can be concerning for parents. Teachers work patiently with children to guide them and redirect behavior, teaching them new ways of managing their developing feelings.

Why do PreK students express anger and strong emotions? 

They have not yet learned self-control and any form of impulse control is not something that a small child is able to developmentally manage. 

Self control only starts to develop at about the age of 3 years old and this learning lasts all the way to the age of about 9 years old. Girls develop self control skills earlier than boys.

They are learning to test their limits and learning what is acceptable and what is not, their brains are still developing and thus the understanding that this behavior has not fully developed. 

They do not understand that hitting or the use of any type of force is a bad thing.

They are beginning to have big feelings or big emotions and are not able to explain these feelings so they will use actions to express themselves. 

As adults we are able to explain how we feel, but small children don't have the language or self-control to react appropriately. 
What do teachers do to support this learning in the classroom?

Teachers will move children away from a situation where they are experiencing frustration and redirect their attention to another activity. 

They will move the child to a part of the classroom where the child will feel calm such as the reading corner and will play alongside the child to settle their strong feelings.

Teachers use positive reinforcement and will teach good behavior by reading stories, modeling kindness and praising all efforts that a child makes in displaying empathy.

It is important to remember that small children need to reach a certain developmental stage where they will truly understand how actions can hurt others. 

Teachers will never shame a child because we are all aware that the child has not developed the skills to understand what they are doing.

If this type of behavior happens often with a particular child then one adult will be assigned to support the child and take note of what triggers the child's strong emotions. 

The teaching team will then discuss and decide on strategies to support the child which may include activities, asking for leadership support or meeting with parents to discuss options that may be used in the classroom and at home.
What we as adults should never do?

Never react with anger towards a child, we are teaching them to manage their feelings in an appropriate manner, reacting with any type of anger teaches them that it is ok to react with anger when they are frustrated. 

Never use shame or guilt when managing negative behavior towards the child or towards the child's parents. This is a perfectly natural stage that most children pass through so kindness and support is the best strategy. 

It is important to remember that all this is new to a young child, feeling happy, excited and frustrated are all new experiences that they need to learn to manage and understand.

They begin having these feelings long before they truly understand them. For this reason they will react strongly to the feeling of excitement or the feeling of anger. 

It is important to teach children to celebrate their own achievements and also to recognize and support the achievements of others. In this way we build a strong and caring community.

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