Parents and caregivers often ask what is most important for kindergarten readiness and are surprised when I answer “Social and emotional skills.” They are expecting an answer about academics but children learn best when they are comfortable and confident. How can kids be eager to participate and learn when they are worried and anxious?
The world can be a confusing place for children but sometimes emotions are hard even for adults to figure out. The early years between the ages of new and 5 or 6 years old are an especially sensitive time for emotional development and for learning about emotions and how to control them. Children’s emotions can help or hinder their learning and also impact memory. We all remember events more clearly if they were particularly happy or frightening.
To support children as they learn about emotions, it’s helpful if we can name the emotions for them. For children to be able to talk about their feelings, they need to know the words. Some important ones are: happy, sad, scared, surprised, angry, silly and especially calm. How can we ask kids to calm down if they do not know what calm means?
We also need to help children figure out what another person might be feeling by looking at faces for clues. Making faces is a fun game to play, or looking at faces in picture books. Recognition of facial expressions is an important part of relationships and communication. There are lots of books and stories that we can read about emotions. Talk about your own feelings, too. Sing songs like If You’re Happy and You Know It. Make up verses for being sad, or scared, or angry.
This is the biggest challenge of parenting. And, I think, for teaching. Aristotle said “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all. The following 3 minute video shows how a young child can be totally preoccupied and anxious and how effective a parent’s patience and understanding can be. Are emotional issues a concern for your child?