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In infancy, children depend on adults to help soothe and calm their strong emotions. As they grow, babies gradually begin to learn the difficult task of tolerating those emotions on their own.
1. Soothe Upset Infants
An infant has little ability to manage strong emotions. Caregivers can help calm an upset child through their own relaxed body and soothing voice. Humming, rocking and soft singing can help soothe. Holding a child against your chest to feel the rhythm of your heartbeat can be comforting for some, while others may prefer swaddling or quiet time with less stimulation.
2. Develop Routines
Regular routines help children know what to expect and can add to their sense of safety and well-being. Giving even very young children a warning before a transition can prepare them and help ease or avoid emotional upset. For example, telling a child “I am going to change your diaper” helps to prepare the child.
3. Provide Reassurance
Strong emotions can be frightening for a child. They may not understand that the emotion will go away and it is scary to be so upset. Children can be much attuned to the emotions of those around them and it is the caregiver’s calmness and reassurance that can help a child regain calm.
4. Allow Children to Choose
Give children the opportunity to make choices. Giving two choices that are interesting to them can be helpful in redirecting young children who are upset. Sensory play like water or sand can provide a soothing experience and help calm the stressed child.
5. Provide Language Experiences
Infants and toddlers act out their feelings through their behavior. Provide language experiences for infants and toddlers that include emotion words. Identify emotions and their cues (a smile indicates happy; a frown indicates sad) to help children build the concept of emotions. Eventually this will help them to use words to express their feelings rather than behavior.
Managing difficult emotions is one of the most important tasks of early childhood. Work with children first to identify feelings and then to practice ways to calm down and self-soothe.
1. Teach Preschoolers to Identify Their Emotions
Preschoolers have strong emotions throughout their day. Teach them how to identify their emotions. Show children pictures of “feeling faces” and teach them the names of the emotions, have them look in the mirror and make different faces, or have them draw a picture of what makes them happy and what makes them sad.
2. Teach Preschoolers to Self-Regulate
Children who are highly emotional can benefit from practicing self-regulating techniques when they are calm. They can then be encouraged to use these techniques when they are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Teach children simple ways to relax such as breathing exercises, tensing and releasing muscles, stretching exercises, and imagining a peaceful scene.
3. Encourage Self-Soothing
Encourage the use of self-soothing activities to promote self-regulation and control. Spending time alone helps children to see themselves as separate and independent people. A secluded, quiet area allows a child who is tired or overwhelmed to take some time away from the group. After the child is calm and in control, he or she can decide to rejoin the group.
4. Lower the Classroom Noise Level
Some children become overwhelmed by too much noise or activity. Children feel more secure and in control of their emotions in a calm, orderly and relaxing environment. Bring the noise level of the classroom down by beginning with a loud enough voice that the children can hear and then gradually lowering your voice so that children will have to be quiet to hear what you are saying.
5. Encourage Expression
Encourage children to talk about thoughts, feelings, and ideas. If talking is too difficult, help them write, draw, point to a picture or act them out with figures or puppets. Encourage the use of sensory materials and activities that require concentration and self-control like blocks or imaginative play in order to promote self-regulation.