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We all have them, and we all need to manage them; yet sometimes, they can get the better of all of us. So, what exactly are our emotions all about? And how do we begin managing emotions in the early years? 

As children grow and navigate their way through life, they encounter a wide range of emotions, from happiness and excitement to sadness and frustration. Emotions will also play a significant role in their development and well-being and helping them to understand and manage their emotions is an essential skill that will contribute to a child's social and emotional growth in many ways. In this article, we will then explore what emotions are, why they are important and how young children can learn to recognise and handle their emotions effectively. 

What Are Emotions? 

Emotions are powerful feelings that everyone experiences. They are natural reactions to situations and events, and they can change and evolve throughout the day. Some common emotions children may experience include joy, anger, fear, sadness, surprise, and disgust. Each emotion has its unique characteristics that you can come to recognise such as facial expressions, physical reactions, and behavioural responses. 

Why Are Emotions Important? 

While we might be nervous about some of the more extreme emotions, they shouldn’t be avoided or hidden away. Emotions serve as signals that provide us with valuable information about how we are feeling, and how we perceive what is going on around us and indicate how we will respond. Emotions help children to make sense of their experiences and tell them how to communicate their needs and desires. So, by recognising and understanding their emotions, children can then develop an emotional intelligence that is rooted in empathy, they can build healthy relationships and feel capable of facing challenging situations effectively. 

Recognising Emotions 

For young children, learning to identify and name their emotions is a crucial step towards emotional intelligence. Here are some strategies that you can use to support your child in recognising their emotions: 

Emotional Labelling: Teach your children the names of different emotions by using simple, age-appropriate language. Encourage them to express how they feel by saying phrases like, "I can see that you're feeling sad right now." 

Visual Cues: Use visual aids, such as picture books or emotion cards to help them associate specific facial expressions with different emotions. This can enhance your children's understanding and make it easier for them to express themselves. 

Role-Playing: Engage in pretend play with your children and act out various emotions. This interactive approach allows them to explore different feelings in a safe and supportive environment. 

Managing Emotions 

Once a child can recognise their emotions, it's important to help them develop healthy strategies for managing them. The trouble is emotional management with children tends to happen at a time when emotions are running high and when the child is in no place to listen to you or take in any of what you are saying. The first thing you need to do is get their “thinking brain” back online as you help ease them away from the more “flight, fright, fight” responses that have been triggered. Here are some techniques that can assist your young children in regulating their emotions: 

Deep Breathing: Teach a child to take slow, deep breaths when they feel overwhelmed or upset. Deep breathing can help calm their bodies and minds. 

Positive Self-talk: Encourage a child to use positive affirmations or self-statements to replace any negative thoughts. For example, instead of saying, "I can't do it," encourage them to say, "I will try my best." 

Problem-Solving: When they face challenges, guide a child through problem-solving processes. Encourage them to think of possible solutions and weigh the pros and cons of each option. 

Seeking Support: Teach your children that it's okay to ask for help when they need it. Let them know they can talk to a trusted adult, such as a parent, teacher or friend about their feelings. 

Allowing children to express their thoughts, opinions and feelings is also a key part of supporting their emotional intelligence. By offering them the vocabulary to express how they feel, we can foster their individuality, build their self-confidence, and promote their overall development in powerful ways.

Every child is unique, in their thoughts, feelings and perspectives. When we give our children a voice, we acknowledge and celebrate this individuality. And when we encourage them to express themselves, we empower them to embrace their uniqueness and develop a strong sense of self-identity. This freedom of self-expression lays the foundation for their future personal and social interactions as they learn to understand, own, and manage the way they think and feel. They learn that their thoughts and feelings matter and that they have the power to influence their outcomes. This sense of empowerment will then nurture a child’s self-esteem and encourage them to articulate how they feel more effectively, whilst listening more empathetically to the thoughts and feelings of others. 

But of course, if you are going to support your children’s emotions, you need to be able to manage your own, without losing your cool. That may sound obvious, but with increasing stress and anxiety levels facing many of us, our emotional health can become overlooked. So, ask yourself, how well do you listen to how you are feeling? Do you have people in your life that you can express these feelings to… and who will listen? Do you have “stress techniques” and methods you can try and a support network that understands you?  

Whether you are a parent, practitioner or family worker, join me at the Nurturing Childhoods Academy where you can become a member of the Nurturing Childhoods Community. Listen to talks, and chat with other parents and carers about the experiences they are having, you might like to swap a funny story or ask for some advice. And there are also lots of materials, tips and suggestions, new blogs every week and you can even have a go with a 'Childhood Challenge' or two!  

About the author:

Dr. Kathryn Peckham, the visionary behind Nurturing Childhoods, is a dedicated champion for ensuring that children have access to enriching and purposeful experiences during their crucial formative years. With a fervent commitment to this cause, Kathryn collaborates with various educational settings to assess the profound effects of impactful childhood experiences, which lay the essential groundwork for lifelong learning.

About the author:

Dr. Kathryn Peckham, the visionary behind Nurturing Childhoods, is a dedicated champion for ensuring that children have access to enriching and purposeful experiences during their crucial formative years. With a fervent commitment to this cause, Kathryn collaborates with various educational settings to assess the profound effects of impactful childhood experiences, which lay the essential groundwork for lifelong learning.

About the author:

Dr. Kathryn Peckham, the visionary behind Nurturing Childhoods, is a dedicated champion for ensuring that children have access to enriching and purposeful experiences during their crucial formative years. With a fervent commitment to this cause, Kathryn collaborates with various educational settings to assess the profound effects of impactful childhood experiences, which lay the essential groundwork for lifelong learning.

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