Yesterday, someone posted an article to the FB timeline of a friend of mine. It’s called “The Benefits of Helping Preschoolers Understand and Discuss Their Emotions” by Deborah Farmer Kris, and it details some strategies and methods for helping your toddler/preschooler start to gain an important skill: emotional literacy. As the mother of a very…opinionated and emotional 2-year-old girl, I appreciated this article very much. In the article, Ms. Kris cites some things that parents and teachers can do to foster a healthy development of emotional literacy.
1. Name emotions
Elizabeth is still quite young but this is definitely something I as her mother can do and what we have been doing in differing forms since she was an infant. Yesterday, however, I tried to mak a conscious effort to do it, noting when she was mad, frustrated, happy, cranky, etc.
2. Normalize emotions
This is something that will need more work and consistency on my part. It is almost instinctive, when Elizabeth is throwing a tantrum in the middle of Target, for me to tell her that she is being naughty.
This past Saturday, Elizabeth threw an absolute fit in the middle of Target. It was decided that I would take her back to the car and my husband would pay for our items and then join us. So I walked her out to the car, got her strapped into her seat, and calmed down. Then, instead of getting into the front seat, I left the side door of the van open and sat on the floor of the van in the open doorway so I could be close to her. I gave her a sippy to have a drink after all that crying and screaming and loaded her arms with her little blankie friends (her best comfort next to Ma or Da). Then I talked to her. “You were very angry in the store. I know you’re usually very good when we are shopping. Now you look very sad. Are you tired? It’s OK, you can take a nap. I’m right here; you aren’t alone.” And I sat there until Ben came out from the store so we could head home. I always try to talk to Elizabeth about her behavior after the event and (if necessary) consequences, ie time out. I know that she is two, but I also know that my daughter understands everything I say, even if she doesn’t have the ability to parse out the particulars yet.
3. Develop Strategies
In this section, Ms. Kris cites one of my favorite things: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, a show built on Fred Rogers’ emotional education curriculum begun with Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Elizabeth has been watching Daniel Tiger since she was eight months old; he is a favorite in this house, with his lessons about dealing with emotions and life’s little ups and downs. Of the 40 plus episodes that she has enjoyed, Elizabeth has many of them memorized now and recognizes when we use the little strategies/songs with her. It is not unusual to hear “Grownups come back” sung in our house at someone’s leave-taking, accompanied by “It’s OK to feel sad sometimes. Little by little, you’ll feel better again.” Just yesterday, as Elizabeth let out an angry cry at her Kindle, which wasn’t working (because she had turned off the wifi), I sang her the frustration song, “When you’re feeling frustrated, take a step back and ask for help.” Sure enough, she quieted down, picked up her Kindle, and handed it to me to fix. It may or may not have been her recognizing her emotional state and taking action to relieve her frustration, but I believe that little lessons and strategies like this can be of immense help in developing emotional awareness and literacy.
4. “Read” pictures
As a certified bibliophile, I love looking at books with my daughter and reading to her. One of my favorite books to read with Elizabeth is Caroline Church’s I Love You Through and Through (I seriously want to own all the books this woman has written). It details all the different states of a child in which their parents/grandparents/etc. will still love them: “I love your happy side. I love your sad side. Your silly side, and your mad side.” The pictures show the same child with the differing emotions and actions as depicted in the story and I will point to the pictures and talk about how happy/sad/silly/mad the little boy looks. Elizabeth has this book memorized and will sometimes act it out as I read, which is lots of fun for us both.
5. Practice mindfulness
I enjoy my quiet time. I dearly remember Saturday mornings in a silent house, or sitting on my stoop with a cup of coffee, listening to sounds of the neighborhood on a summer morning. Admittedly, that doesn’t happen quite as much with Elizabeth around, as she is a child of almost constant movement, singing, dancing, playing, tumbling, etc. But I do try to convince her to have “quiet time” with Ma. Yesterday, we took a long walk and she looked and listened to the world around her as we walked (rocks were deeply fascinating, as was the new spring grass). I enjoyed that and plan on repeating it as often as we can.
On the whole, Ms. Kris’s article was a delight and encouragement to read and I am so glad to have had the opportunity to find it. As a fellow educator and mother, I found her words very uplifting and the strategies useful and applicable, even to my rambunctious bundle.
I have followed her on Twitter so that I can continue to keep up with her writings, and you can do the same here.