Teaching children emotional awareness, in themselves and recognising emotions in others, is an important part of children’s growth and wellbeing. Understanding emotions is also not something ingrained, and not necessarily an easy thing to teach or grasp, especially as these small humans’ brains are rapidly developing in all areas.

In children, all kinds of changes are happening at the same time, and some areas, such as children’s language skills, develop before their self-regulation skills. This means that while your child may have a broad vocabulary, they still may not be able to put into words how they’re feeling. A toddler’s capacity to regulate their emotional state and emotional reactions can affect everyone around them, and can carry on to academic performance, long-term mental health, and their ability to thrive in a complex world.

Helping children to identify and label emotions is an important first step and something Little Scholars focuses on in our educational programming. Small children do not yet have the vocabulary to identify feeling words like angry or frustrated, or have the skills to “read” facial cues or to interpret body language.

So how do we teach emotional intelligence in children?

Even the littlest Scholars are learning emotional intelligence by communicating how they feel, according to Jodie, a lead educator in the nursery studio at Deception Bay.

“If a child is expressing an emotion or a behaviour, [we question] is it because they need something from us? ‘I can see you’re feeling sad, how come you’re feeling sad?'” Jodie says. “If we begin to speak to the babies about what they’re feeling, information I’ve learned from [child psychologist] Justin Coulson, it will relate to five things, either them being hungry, angry, lonely, tired or stressed. It’s often one of those things that will cause big emotions.

“They’re obviously not able to completely communicate with us on what their needs are. I’ve learned not to ask the children what they want, but what do they need?” she says. “Maybe they’re feeling hungry and frustrated, so offering them an apple could work, where they can get some of that anger out through crunching. Maybe they’re feeling tired, but they need a little more comfort first. What other feelings are they feeling?”

At our Burleigh campus, children and educators have feelings chats as part of their morning routine. In the Toddler studio, children ask their educators questions such as ‘why is she angry?’ providing a great opportunity for further conversation. Educators support the children in understanding their emotions through discussions as part of their morning routine.

“During the morning, we will sit down for our morning meeting [with children] so when we come inside, we’ll ask how they’re feeling, they’ll express how they’re feeling – happy, sad, ‘good’, and throughout the day we’ll do activities and they’ve gotten really good at recognising and showing those emotions,” says Sasha, lead educator in the Toddler 2 studio. “It’s crazy to see how much they can take in and understand.

Emotions

“It’s harder for some of the younger ones [to grasp], but we still try to get them involved by asking ‘how do you think that person looks in the photo?’ or ‘how could we make that person feel better?’ and get them to try to understand how others may be feeling,” Sasha continues. “They’re getting really good at being able to understand their own emotions, and we try to support them in how they can support themselves if they are feeling sad, or feeling overwhelmed and need space. Next year they’ll be learning more about how others feel and how we can help them.”

Raylene, an educator in the senior kindy studio at our Yatala campus, says the benefits of exploring emotions, all emotions including the hard ones, allows children to not only identify them but develop the skills to go through them.

“One child mentioned that she would cry all day if she couldn’t see her mummy again. Mr J mentioned that he gets angry when he can’t find his treasures. Mr T doesn’t like when Mummy drops him off etc which led to a discussion about developing strategies to cope with these emotions when they occur. [It’s] so powerful. Mr J said that he could take a big breath and then think about where he put his treasures. Miss K said that she would give her sister a big hug if she couldn’t hug Mummy. Mr T said he could come with Miss Ray,” says Raylene. “Ensuring educators create opportunities for children to communicate their feelings and then giving children the tools to not only identify them, but develop strategies to manage them, rather than saying ‘you’re OK’ is the power moment.”

Tori, an educator at the same campus agrees.

“I feel teaching children about their emotions is so important, especially teaching children their emotions are valid and it is OK to feel those emotions,” says Tori. “One of my favourite book series is the ‘A little spot of’ which demonstrate scenarios for children and strategies to help with those emotions. I find once children know it is OK to feel various emotions and learn strategies they can use when they feel this they begin to regulate easier, understand and respect their peers more when they go through the emotions and can support one another.”
 

Jodie is right. Research shows that children who learn how to understand emotions in themselves and others are better able to regulate their own responses to strong emotions. Helping children to identify and label emotions is an important first step, and this is supported by the Early Years Framework in helping children develop a strong sense of identity.

Further information

Life is full of big changes, everyone goes through a few in their lifetime, and some of these things are in our control and some aren’t. Knowing changes are coming, whether they’re positive or negative, isn’t always easy. As change happens, your routines are disrupted and suddenly you have to adapt as you are pushed further and further out of your comfort zone. For the little people in your life, generally, when a big change happens in their home, they have little control over what’s happening, may not even understand what or why something is happening, and it can be hard.

Some examples of these life changes affecting small children could be a new sibling, parents separating, losing a family member, moving to a new house or even a new city or town. While these changes affect everyone in the house, children don’t necessarily have the coping skills yet to deal with them. Children who are new to major life changes need extra support in addressing their feelings, understanding and adjusting to change, and learning new strategies and skills along the way. As their parent, even if you’re also dealing with these changes yourself, you have to find time for your children to support them through this change. They may be small, but their feelings matter just as much as everyone else’s.

Time to prepare

If you can, give them time to prepare. Is Nana sick? Have a conversation with your children about what this could mean: her not being able to see them while she recovers. Maybe it means time in hospital and she may look different, or maybe it’ll be harder to touch her or talk to her, and maybe it means she may not survive. You may need to prepare yourself first about how you’ll have these kinds of hard conversations with them.

Is a new baby coming? Assure them this does not mean you will love them any less. Let them know that while a new baby may need more attention in the beginning, you’re always there for them and you will still have special time together. Many parents swear by having a special toy basket set up for when the baby needs to be fed, and putting these random, loose parts in the basket that can change regularly to keep them interested.

At our centres, we can arrange activities that help children understand the changes that may be happening at home.

For example, when it comes to a new sibling’s arrival:

“We have had a few new sibling arrivals, and with that we will set up some baby care stations with wraps, bottles, rattles, nappies clothes, etc,” says Skye, an educator at our Yatala campus. “We even do a little bath sensory activity, we read books on the arrival of babies at home and also find some songs about families,”

If you’re at a loss on where to start preparing, book stores and libraries these days have incredible selections of books for children to help them understand in age-appropriate ways big life changes that can affect them. Whatever the scenario, by giving them time to process and accept the change that’s coming, things may be easier when they actually do come. They may not offer up what’s happening in those busy minds and you may need to check in and ask them how they’re feeling or what they think. “I told you not long ago that Mummy and Daddy have to sell the house because we have to move to another city. What are some of the things that come to mind when you think about not living here anymore?”

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Listen to concerns

Take time to listen to their concerns. Be ready to answer questions (and for most children, there will be more and more questions!) and know these questions may come up at what seems to be random times, but that goes to show they internalise change and are trying to process it maybe even more than you think! Say something like, “Moving to a new place can feel sad and scary. It’s okay to feel that way. Let’s take some deep breaths. We can get through it together.”

You may need to help them identify what their feelings are and explain what they mean: emotions such as feeling anxious, sad, scared, excited, and nervous are normal feelings and won’t last forever, and also let them know that these are feelings grown-ups feel too.

Keep routines the same (as much as possible)

Consistency and stability are just as important now as ever before. Bedtimes and mealtimes should remain consistent and are great times to connect as a family, even if the family dynamic is changing. The structure feels safe for children, so provide as much of it as possible to restore a sense of safety. Avoid a lot of big changes at once. Even if there’s a new baby coming, this may not be the time to move your child from cot to big bed if they’re already unsure of their feelings about not being your baby anymore. If Mummy and Daddy are going to live apart, help them set up their second bedroom similarly to the one they’ve known, and try to keep those routines the same, no matter what home they’re spending time in.

“When it comes to a family break, we always talk with parents encouraging them to keep the same routine at both houses, like toileting, comforters, for example,” Skye says.

Maintain connection

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Another thing that should remain consistent is your child’s relationship with you. Make sure your child knows that no matter what else changes, you aren’t going anywhere, and neither is the bond you have with your child. You are always there for them, even if it’s by phone when you can’t be beside them.

Set aside even 10 minutes each day to give your child your undivided attention. Make eye contact, put the phone away, and be playful and affectionate. This will be as good for you as it is your children. If your thing together is going for a walk together, keep doing it. Being cuddled up and reading books together is a wonderful way to maintain your bond. Do an activity together that your child enjoys, whether it’s video games or kicking a ball around, playing dolls or colouring together, you may be surprised with what they’ll remember long into the future about what their time with you meant. Try to remember that a little extra attention and parent-child time reassures your child that your love will stay consistent, making it much easier to cope with changes in other aspects of life.

Tell your Little Scholars educators

Our relationships with our families are so important. We can and would like to help! Talk to your educators or campus manager about what’s going on at home. Your educator may have noticed changes in your child’s behaviour or emotions already, which has given them the heads-up something is different.

“How I notice when children are going through tough times or even have experienced a traumatic event is when they start ‘acting out,’” says Holly, an educator at our Stapylton campus. “Difficulties eating and sleeping than their usual, acting clingy more than usual, more tantrums, losing interest in activities they once enjoyed, they stop playing with their friends and aren’t socially interacting, drawings that are concerning about what is happening in their lives, regression with toileting and even going back to thumb sucking etc.”

By letting educators know what’s going on at home, they can help by ensuring your child has the attention he or she needs especially at this time, or they can help facilitate activities or learning exercises to support feelings your child may be experiencing.

“You definitely need to have built a strong and positive relationship with families in your centre, to ensure you can effectively work together,” Holly says. “Document children’s change of behaviour if you’re concerned and communicate with families about this. It also helps to provide strategies that you will implement at the centre as well as helping families with strategies for home.”

“We always give lots of extra cuddles and when we notice they are having a tough day, and encourage them to do some relaxing activities like laying on the cushions reading, playdough, sensory bottles, calming toys like fidget spinners, poppets, mini lava lamps, just things that give them some space and also some one-on-one time,” Skye says.

It’s our job to help ensure your child is spending their time with us in a warm, welcoming, supportive and caring environment in which she or he can grow socially, cognitively, emotionally, and physically, and we’re here to support your entire family. We have an open-door policy, and you’re very welcome to call or come in to talk as much as you need.

Are you a parent racking your brain trying to figure out how to get your little one to stop hitting, biting, or pushing other people?

The good news is, it’s really common. The bad news for you is, it’s still your child doing it and you have to deal with it.

For babies, this is a way to explore the world through cause and effect. Besides teething, babies bite to see what you’ll do. If you laugh, they might try it again to get the same reaction. If you get mad, that baby might be fascinated by your reaction, not quite understanding facial reactions and meaning.

For toddlers, they may have seen other children do it. They might do it because they’re angry, upset, hurt or excited and don’t have the means to express it differently.

Both babies and toddlers could be pushing, biting or hitting because they feel overwhelmed, bored, overtired or hungry.

No matter why your child is doing it, it can be frustrating and embarrassing for parents. But know that it’s not about you. It’s not your failure as a parent. When we think our child’s behaviour with us is a reflection on ourselves, we bring a lot of baggage with our response.

Now’s the time to manage it calmly.

“I like to explain to parents that these kinds of behaviours aren’t usually appropriate, but are age-appropriate and can come from a place of frustration in children,’ says Claire, an educator at our Nerang Campus.

“Biting is common around the age where children are beginning to learn how to talk and can’t quite get the words out and are frustrated.”

It is important to ensure when you are guiding a child’s behaviour to label the behaviour and not the child, Claire says. Telling them they’re being bad or naughty isn’t effective, and it isn’t likely to change the behaviour. Remember, every child is good. They are learning everything, including regulating and dealing with emotions and impulse control.

Claire also recommends not projecting your own feelings about your child’s negative behaviour. For example, try not to make statements like ‘Stop it, you’re making Mummy sad’ or ‘Look what you did!’ Try to remember that your child is learning empathy, so putting shame or guilt on their actions won’t fix the negative actions.

So how do you respond?

Stay calm. Your emotions can set the tone for how to bring down a heightened moment. By yelling or immediately punishing, you’re giving that undesirable behaviour attention. It’s also modelling explosive reactions, like what you as a parent are trying to adjust.

A calm, firm response could look like ‘Hitting/Biting/Pushing is never OK. I won’t let you hurt your brother.’ If the behaviour continues, a follow-up ‘I’ll move your brother over here to keep everyone safe.’

This sets and actions the boundary for behaviour. Once everyone is calmed down, that’s a better opportunity to teach coping skills, according to Sarah, an educator in our Senior Kindy studio from Deception Bay.

“Calm approach, sometimes for the older children, they need that time to themselves let them have their rage in a safe way, of course. There is no point in trying to get them to calm down when they are in the state they are in. It’s best to wait and then talk to them once they are ready,” she says.

Understanding those emotions

If you feel your child is old enough to have a conversation about what happened, you could follow with, ‘You seem to have a hard time not pushing, I wonder why that is?’ If they tell you what/who is bothering them, you could tell/make up a similar story and tell them how you handled it. By modelling a response to a negative feeling, parents can help children understand and regulate their emotions.

Brooke, a Schoolies educator also at our Deception Bay campus also suggests asking the child what they need in that time can help.

“Every child is different and an approach that will work with one might not necessarily work for another or might not work every time which makes things difficult,” Brooke says. “I feel like asking the children what they need in that time is a big thing in diffusing a situation, because some children could want the space, where others may need a hug to feel safe and secure.”

Hayley, an educator also at Deception Bay in our toddler studio, agrees how the situation is dealt with is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

“I would say it would depend on the situation, age group and other factors,” Hayley says. “If it’s a child that’s not going to stop, I would then definitely redirect either to a different activity or to someone that they feel more comfortable with. For example, say it’s a child from the Senior Kindy room who’s just moved up to the Kindergarten room, you could ask them, ‘hey would you like to go see (previous educator)?’ if they say yes, it removes them from the situation, and it’s the child’s choice too.”

“I also like to give them a choice when redirecting so, ‘hey I know you’re frustrated, would you like to go run outside or do you want to do some painting?”

Biting Blog

Helping to recognise others have feelings

Some experts also recommend trying to fight the impulse to force your child to apologise. Children need to focus on learning to regulate those emotions, if you’re asking more of the child by forcing an apology, it’s likely to make them more frustrated or ashamed, and they won’t do what you’re asking, and certainly won’t feel like they’re being seen. They will learn apologies in time, but we don’t want them to think ‘when I’m sad I should say sorry’ but rather ‘when I’m sad I should think about what made me sad, take deep breaths, count to 10.’

However, it’s still important for your child to understand that other people have feelings too, so you could say, rather than forcing an apology, ‘Let’s see how we can make him feel better.” By involving your child in the resolution rather than ordering them to do something, you’ll likely see better results.

Focusing on the positive behaviours

“Praise your children when they are doing something positive, even on the days it feels like all they have done is bite or hit,” Claire adds. “Soon enough they will be chasing the positive reinforcement and be replacing the negative behaviours with more positives.”

Guiding positive behaviour is a goal of Little Scholars by creating a safe environment for the children within our studios.

“This is guided by John Bowlby’s attachment theory,” explains Chloe, an educational lead at our Redland Bay South campus. Bowlby believed that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers have a tremendous impact that continues throughout life.

“Every morning upon arrival, we create a warm welcome space for the children to be dropped off to. Once the children feel a sense of belonging within their learning environment, they are able to venture off and participate in the day’s learning.

“Respect and care are important parts of our day-to-day curriculum and is embedded in our learning by educating the children on their emotions identifying how they feel through use of conversation and cues, and guiding them in strategies that can assist with the way they are feeling,” she continues. “With these embedded practices, it helps to eliminate those rough behaviours.”

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Come and see the Little Scholars difference

Let us hold your hand and help looking for a child care centre. Leave your details with us and we’ll be in contact to arrange a time for a ‘Campus Tour’ and we will answer any questions you might have!