Have you ever frustrated or angry? I mean really frustrated or angry? Almost beyond words? Doesn’t that just add to the aforementioned frustration? Well, imagine being a child. (It shouldn’t be too hard, I’m pretty sure you were one once.) Young children are bombarded with emotions just as intense as our own – if not more so as they are not tempered with the same reason and justification we can sometimes muster. These little ones feel just as frustrated and angry as we ever could, but have even less of an ability to verbalize it. Too often, that results in some other manifestation or communication of the emotion. This is when we usually see the tantrums, the biting, the hitting, the kicking, etc., etc., etc. How do we as adults usually respond? We swoop in, console the victim and cite the offender, lecturing them about that behavior. We see it as a failure to behave properly, when often, it is a failure to communicate properly.
While I’m not saying that consequences should be ignored, I do think we are too frequently jumping past a critical first step. In any highly emotional response for a young child, the first reaction we need to have is to label and validate those emotions. We need to help them understand what they are feeling and let them know that the feeling is OK – even when the behavior is not.
Think about it. We all get angry. I’m sure you’ve all had a turn feeling “righteous indignation”. You’re angry, and you know you have every right to be angry. Heads of State and geniuses get angry. Well, children get angry too. And many times for good reasons. Getting angry is not a problem. It’s how we respond to the anger that often causes problems. We need to teach children how to properly respond, without sending the message that their feelings are wrong.
Here are some ways this may play out:
“Adam, I understand that you feel very angry right now, and it’s OK to feel that way, but hitting other children is never OK in this classroom. Can you think of a better way to act when you feel angry?” (Talk about simply saying “I FEEL ANGRY!”, or squishing all your anger into some playdough, or finding a quiet place for some deep breaths……etc.)
“Sandy, I know that you feel very sad because the other girls didn’t want to play your game. I would feel sad and disappointed too. Maybe you could ask if they’d like to play after they finish painting. – OR- Can you think of someone else you might like to invite to play your game with you-OR- Can you think of something that you like to do that makes you feel happy?”
By first helping them to label the feeling, it gives them tools to use to communicate in the future. It also helps them to know they have been heard and understood, which is sometimes all they were looking for in the first place. Lastly, it teaches them to recognize the feeling and to connect it with more appropriate behaviors in the future.
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Top photo by hortongrou.