Teaching 4-Year-Olds to Cope With Feelings

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I don’t remember what it was like to be 4, but watching my now almost-5-year-old, I think it must have been kinda tough. Lately he’s been processing a lot. He wants to be a big guy and keep up with his older friends. He’s good at it, but when he simply can’t do all they know how to do, he becomes a wilted flower. Emotions are running high these days and he’s trying to figure it all out.

Crying is his outlet for frustration, but he’s literally asking me how to “quit the crying.” It’s all part of the process, and a recent national study has compiled some strategies to help preschoolers with emotional learning, which in turn will help them with academic learning in the future. Part of the Head Start curriculum that is developing out of this study is teaching children how to regulate emotions using stories, games and lessons during group time. The idea is to help children understand how to recognize feelings, and how to respond. That’s the crucial part: how to respond. Results from the classes involved in the study showed more engaged learning and overall calmer classrooms once children understood how to regulate feelings. Makes sense.

Again it all goes back to talking to children and teaching them to use their words to describe what they are feeling. By being able to say, something makes me mad or sad, and understand those feelings are OK. We’ve all been there, not happy with our situations, but knowing how to cope with those feelings is key. I’ve found lately that when my child is upset about something he can’t do, he wants to bottle up and not talk, but with some coaxing or when he’s ready, he asks me questions about these feelings and things that are making him upset. We talk and I relate to him about how everyone has these feelings from time to time, and we even all cry. Then we hug! 

What strategies have you found in helping your preschoolers understand the big world of emotions around them?