Preschoolers need guidance to help them interpret their own feelings and emotions and to interact appropriately with others. When you help children learn how to communicate their feelings and emotions effectively, you give them the social and emotional tools they need to deflate tense situations and to understand themselves better. By teaching preschoolers how to express their feelings and how to respond to the emotions of their peers, you help them recognize and deal with their own feelings and emotions, as well as those of others.
Give preschoolers words for their feelings and emotions. Start with simple languages, such as angry, sad, happy or frightened, but move beyond these initial “feeling” words to more descriptive ones, such as lonely, excited, hungry, frustrated and thankful. Emotional literacy helps children to be socially competent and enables them to recognize and respond to social cues appropriately, according to the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning out of Vanderbilt University.
Introduce emotion concepts during storytime or activity time, using pictures and facial expressions to help children better understand the connection between feelings and self-expression. Help your preschooler put feeling words into context when he is experiencing a heightened emotional moment. For example, you might say, “You are really excited about that puppy,” or “You feel frustrated with this puzzle right now.”
Give your preschooler permission to express emotions and feelings without inducing shame or guilt. Learning to understand and manage feelings and emotions is a social and emotional developmental milestone. Encourage children to express feelings appropriately rather than to repress them or express them without regard for others. If your preschooler wants to hit when she’s angry, for example, find an appropriate way for her to express her anger. Teach that hitting hurts people but that anger and frustration are normal. Give her a pillow that she can hit when she’s feeling mad or angry, allowing her to express her feelings without endangering herself or others.
Model self-control by using calm, descriptive language to voice your own feelings and emotions. Children learn about feelings and emotions not only through their own experiences but also through observation. Look for teaching opportunities to show your preschooler how to express strong feelings and emotions in inappropriate ways.
Mediate tense emotional conflicts involving preschoolers without trying to control the situation. Encourage and allow preschoolers to communicate their feelings and emotions to both peers and adults. Social and emotional development is a primary factor in school readiness, according to childcare educator and author Lisa Murphy. Give your preschooler opportunities to interact with peers and to work through social situations involving sharing and taking turns. When conflict arises, ask your preschooler how he feels and why he feels this way. When he responds, ask him what he thinks will help the situation. Encourage him to communicate this to his companion. Help the conversation along until feelings have been effectively communicated, worked through and dealt with. This process will give your child the tools he needs to handle social situations when you aren’t around to mediate.
Give your preschooler the space she needs to explore her feelings. If a preschooler needs time to calm down, give her a book or a soothing toy and help her find a quiet place to be by herself. Refrain from associating quiet time with punishment or time out. A child needs to know that needing space to experience and work through feelings is natural and not a consequence of wrong behavior.