Preschool emotions are under construction! Three useful tips:
1. What we see as bad behaviors are emotions looking for a way out.
We are “emotion coaches“ (Gottman). Label the emotion, accept that they are feeling that way, and then set a limit or problem solve together. Breathing balls are a wonderful, physical way to teach deep breathing as one response to strong emotions.
2. Self-regulation is just starting to develop, be patient!
For example, it isn’t until age 6 or later when children will know it is socially appropriate to smile when receiving a gift, whether they like it or not. Strong emotions and tantrums are not a sign of bad parenting or bad kids. The part of the brain that is heavily involved in regulating big emotions and considering consequences – the pre-frontal cortex – won’t be fully developed until sometime in the early 20s. Model strong emotions playfully so your child gets a regular dose of examples of self-regulation. In our house we have a sad chair and a frustrated chair, places to go to sit if you want space on your own. And we talk about hitting pillows instead of people.
3. Practice engaging both the logical and emotional parts of our brains through storytelling.
Stories are powerful vehicles for emotions, values and motivation. Dramatic stories change our brain! Read together but also make up stories based in everyday experiences, like feeding the cat or eating breakfast together.