Self-Regulation—“I can manage my strong emotions and am in
control ofmy behavior.”
One ofthe most troubling challenges for early childhood teachers is the child who lacks
emotional self-management skills. These children might hit before they think, can’t
wait for a turn,or cry and have tantrums easily.Teachers might observe that these kids
seem to be controlled by their emotions, much as newborns are.When newborns are
hungry, they cry. When they are colicky, they kick their legs and scream. When they
sense a nipple, they root and latch on. No thought goes into this behavior. Newborns
feel and then do. Children who lack emotional self-management skills appear to
behave in a similar way.
Managing emotions is a very complex skill:
• Children must have a basic understanding that actions have consequences,both
positive and negative.
• Children need to know what kinds of behavior are culturally acceptable. Can
boys cry? Can girls play with action toys? Is hitting okay?
• Children need an awareness that they,not their feelings,control their behavior
and that they have the power to manage their emotions.
Children learn about emotions from the people around them.When adults man-
age their own anger and frustration,they are teaching children emotional self-manage-
ment skills. The way adults guide and support children with their emotions sends
strong messages to children about ways to express and manage feelings and behavior.
Some children struggle with transitions and change because they are unaware that
feelings fluctuate and that their emotions don’t have to control their behavior. For
example,when such children are contentedly playing at the water table,they might feel
frightened by being asked to move on to another activity,which requires them to leave
their comfort zone.This kind oftransition is threatening to their sense ofwell-being.A
child might feel similarly uncomfortable when the room has been rearranged or when
there is a new parent-helper in the classroom. Children may express these feelings in
very different ways:one child might call out ofturn or talk during quiet times;another
might hit or call names or use profanity when asked to move out ofher comfort zone;
another might cry easily or collapse into a tantrum over a relatively minor obstacle,or
perhaps even one that is invisible to the teacher.It’s important to remember that even
if you don’t understand what is wrong or why the child has such strong feelings, the
feelings are real to the child.
Model and teach emotional self-management skills to impulsive and emotionally
overwhelmed children. Help them develop the foundations they need to eventually
manage strong emotions on their own.
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