We have all been there – from meltdowns in the grocery store to tantrums at bedtime and everything in between, preschoolers have big emotions.
Preschool age can be a tricky age as young children are growing in their newfound independence and yet at the same time their emotional regulation skills and communication skills are still growing and developing. Because children are still developing these skills, it is important to be proactive and support your child’s emotions before they explode.
Here are a few tried and true tips from our preschool teachers for supporting little ones in healthy regulation of emotions.
1. Establish routines & practice consistency. Young children thrive on routine. When your child knows what to expect, they feel more confident and in control of their environment, leading to more regulated emotions. Time is an abstract concept for a young child, so "Mommy will pick you up at from school at 12:30" doesn't mean much to a three or four year old. But in a consistent routine "Mommy will be pick you up from school after lunch time" is more more concrete and understandable to a preschooler. Routines and consistency go a long way in proactively supporting your child towards regulated emotions.
2. Offer choices. To continue helping your child feel confident and in control of their environment, offer them choices. The choices do not have to be anything and everything, but rather, present two choices that work for you as the adult and let your child choose between those preselected choices. For example, would you like to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt today? Would you like apples or oranges in your lunch? Would you like to skip or jump to the bathroom to brush your teeth? Adding in a few simple choices into your routines gives children a greater sense of control. Sometimes if a child is having a particular difficult time, the choice can also become another choice. “You can choose, or I will choose for you. I know that you will feel better if you make the choice.” can be an effective way to diffuse a power struggle.
3. Practice self-regulation regularly (and during neutral times). There is a plethora of great emotional regulation strategies available. A quick Google or Pinterest search will give you more ideas that you know what to do with. However, if you only employ these strategies when a child is already upset, it is very unlikely that they will be successful. That is why practice is so important! Help your child practice deep breathing, counting and other calming activities throughout your day, when they are in good spirits. Once they have practiced these skills, they will be able to use them as calm down strategies. A few of our favorite are breathing techniques. Children can pretend to “smell the flowers” and “blow out the candles”. These two simple actions help children accomplish deep breathing which can be very calming.
4. Utilize positive reinforcement. Notice your child flexing their emotional regulation skills? Acknowledge it! Positive reinforcement will validate your child's hard work and will encourage them to keep practicing emotional regulation. The most effective positive reinforcement doesn't tell a child "good job" though. Rather, try acknowledging what he or she has done in your praise. "Johnny, I am so proud of you for taking deep breaths to calm your body when you were upset."