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Day care provides the perfect environment for your child to begin to develop a deeper understanding of their emotions and how they feel on a day-to-day basis. Big emotions can be confusing and frustrating to deal with, for both the child and the parent. It’s crucial that your child learns how to work through overwhelming emotions so their reactions don’t become extreme and disruptive.
Identify Their Emotions
Before a child can begin recognizing what emotions they’re feeling, they need to be able to recognize what that feeling looks like on other people. Different age groups with different stages of development will respond and understand exercises differently, so it’s a good idea to try fit the activity to whatever stage your child is in.
For toddlers, mirrors are magic. Sit with your child at a mirror and make faces at them that represent different emotions, saying what each face represents. Then have them make the same face as you. This teaches children what various emotions look and feel like without getting too complicated.
A fun activity for slightly older pre-schoolers is to print a collection of pictures with different faces showing various emotions. You can then ask them to find a face that represents “sad,” “excited,” or “angry.” This teaches your child to identify when others are feeling emotions, and gives them the words to start describing their own.
Once they’ve mastered identifying emotions from faces, you might try the other way around. Make-a-face is a DIY activity that you make using cardboard and several fasteners. You can then move different parts of the face and create hundreds of different facial expressions; again, helping your child see what various emotions can look like.
Manage Big Emotions
Preschoolers may be small but their feelings can be huge and complicated. They have many emotions that they don’t understand yet and never will understand if they aren’t taught how to properly deal with them. Even the most unpleasant emotions are important to understand and be able to work through.
An exercise that is often done with children is to have each finger stand for a step in the process of calming down. The idea is that when they feel overwhelmed with anger, frustration or sadness they can work through these five things as a way to calm down and be able to think more logically.
- It is never okay to hurt others
- Take three deep breaths or slowly count to 10
- Use words to say how you feel and what you wish would happen
- Ask for help to solve the problem
- Take time to calm down
Music and Feelings
Songs have been proven to help with learning and memory, so it makes sense that they help with the emotional part of the brain as well. As an example, almost everyone remembers, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!” Even though it’s a simple song, it is often one of the first ways in which toddlers are taught what to do with an emotion–in this case happiness.
Music can also be used to calm down a stressed child, or get them to feel comfort and joy when they’re sad. An activity you can do with your child is to listen to different songs and describe what you feel when listening to that song, or what you think the song’s emotion is.
What Do I Do With My Extremely Upset Child?
Sometimes, the emotion is too big to be worked through and analyzed at that moment. When this is the case, a sensory bag might be the best way to mildly distract an upset child and give them something tangible to focus on.
Other things you can do to get your child feeling less overwhelmed is to have them:
- Run around outside
- Paint or draw
- Close their eyes and think of a calm place
- Dance to happy music
Children have much more complex emotions than we may realize, and need to start learning to cope with all of the extremes before they grow up without the ability to self-reflect or put into words what they’re feeling. Their emotions will often get messy, and most times you can’t do anything to help besides listening to them and giving them any support they ask for.