To become an early learning professional, you are instructed how to teach children to recognize their letters, basic writing and math concepts, and a variety of other academic topics which will support the knowledge children need to be ready for kindergarten.
Some days, you might notice the volume levels in the room increase, or the bickering about someone taking a preferred spot for circle time, and you may start to wonder, “Where were the instructions on how to support developmental skills like emotion regulation, social skills and empathy?”
We now know these developing abilities are the foundation for long-term academic and social success. From the time a baby enters the world through the next five years, there is a lot of work their growing brains are doing.
Much of this development occurs within the context of their social relationships – back and forth interactions with caring, familiar adults. Every time we are responsive to a child’s needs, we are sending them the message, “I see you and you are important.” This interaction lays the groundwork for self-regulation. Self-regulation is how we learn to express early on – through cries when babies are hungry and sleeping, to when they are tired. As children grow, they learn how to manage their feelings and put words to their emotions.
How can we, as caring teachers and caregivers, help support this?
- Be present and responsive to young children. When we do this in a warm, timely, nurturing and consistent fashion, children learn we can be trusted, and they can trust others.
- Use limits that are consistent with what the child needs and provide choices when appropriate. For example, “You may hold onto my hand,” or “You may walk by my side.”
- Use a few simple words consistently when introducing basic emotion words. For example, start with happy, mad, sad and scared. Talk with children about what this emotion is when you notice they are displaying it. Talk about what the emotion looks like in their behavior and acknowledge these emotions. Sometimes, children need to know it's okay to have these feelings and we don’t need to fix it for them.
- Offer support, reminders and kudos when you notice children trying to use their social emotional language and practicing managing their impulses. For example, “I know that was really hard and you are okay.”
As a teacher and caregiver, be sure to celebrate the small wins. Children take time to develop these skills and there will be periods of highs and lows. Give yourself grace. Know you are doing your best in your important job as an educator, shaping their future.