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5 Ways to help young children learn to deal with difficult emotions

December 31, 2011

Guest post by Amanda and Sarah, founders of Excited 2 Learn and partner of Boston Baby Beginnings:

With so much focus put on education and health when it comes to raising kids, sometimes emotional intelligence gets lost in the shuffle. But teaching children from an early age how to identify, understand and appropriately respond to their varying emotions is critical to life-long success and happiness. Here are a few ways you can help instill those emotional skills:

1. Let your child lose when playing games

For as long as children have been playing games, parents have been letting them win. As teachers we have had many students who were never given the opportunity to practice losing when playing games at home, which left them with no strategies to deal with frustration of losing, other than lashing out. Just like any other skill, it’s vital for kids to learn how to lose.

2. Allow your child to experience a wide range of emotions – including “negative” emotions

Parents often try to protect their children from feeling certain emotions like frustration and disappointment at all costs. But if shielded too much, they will not develop appropriate strategies to deal with difficult emotions when they are confronted with them in the future. When you see your child experiencing one of these emotions, acknowledge the fact that they’re feeling that way saying something like “It’s frustrating when _____ happens isn’t it?”

3. Provide your child with ample opportunities to persist with a task until completed

Resist the urge to help your child complete tasks in order to get them done more quickly (zipping up coat, tying shoes, pulling up pants). Let your little ones explore them on his/her own because each presents a wonderful learning opportunity not only for the task at hand, but also for learning patience and how to persist even when frustrated.

4. Be a good role model

Simple events during your day and your reactions to them are perfect learning opportunities for your children.  Remember, your tone of voice, facial expressions and other nonverbal cues can communicate to your child just as much or even more than your words do.

Don’t be afraid to let your children know that even mommies and daddies get sad, frustrated and anxious. Help them by modeling and sometimes describing how you help yourself deal with these challenging emotions.

5. Teach your child strategies to use when he/she gets worked up

On a daily basis toddlers and young children experience a variety of emotions—naturally feeling frustrated, anxious or angry when things don’t go their way. The “I Can Calm Down” chart from Excited2Learn was designed to empower children to realize when they’re getting worked up, label the feeling, and use calming strategies.  These strategies help develop life-long coping skills and emotional intelligence.

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