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Emotional development in children is largely divided into three stages. In the first stage – between years 0-1, children notice their emotions. Although they communicate unclearly, behaviour such as crying shows a response to a trigger. In the second stage, 2-3 years, the child learns to express their emotions through the vocabulary and environment they are set in, e.g., throwing tantrums to get something. At the preschool stage, 3-5 years, the child learns a new social environment and skills such as listening and speaking. Here, children develop new coping mechanisms for emotions, and when disappointed, they may tend to fight back.
Teaching children emotional response is vital, particularly in social environments – school and social gatherings. Children spend most of their time with other persons, either caregiver, teachers, or playmates. Allowing children to be comfortable in their feelings is an important step in shaping their emotional development, particularly after the age of 3 years. Generally, emotions are not only complicated to adults; hence facilitating emotional health is crucial to children.
The crucial step in teaching children about emotional response is emotion identification. The parent or the teacher may begin with simple emotions such as happiness and sadness, leading the child to verbalize them. Asking the child how they feel helps in identifying the emotion and allows the caregiver a chance to walk through with the child. Another way of leading them to learn emotional responses is getting interactive with them. Here, the adult may recite a poem, make faces or create scenarios that trigger emotions. By studying their response, the adult may ask the child to verbalize it, e.g., by creating a scenario of a party; the adult may study the child and ask them how they feel about a certain aspect, such as being denied the party cake.
Leading the child into correct emotional response expressions is crucial. Generally, a child may cry, rebel, or throw a tantrum, possibly due to ignorance about the right response. By introducing various ways of coping with emotions, the adult may lead the child to the right response, e.g., by nudging them through action. For example, by telling a child the importance of speaking out when they feel hurt rather than rebelling, the child may develop resources to manage their emotions and even enhance relationships with the adult. It is also worth noting that children learn from adults and may copy behaviours from the environment. Proper behaviour around children is recommended.
Positive reinforcement plays a similarly crucial role. When children begin to respond appropriately, praising them or rewarding them with a gift encourages the learned behaviour . Rewards enhance memory and encourage replication of the response, i.e., growing the learning curve. Drawing children to the feelings of others may shape their future responses as well. In most cases, children may be unaware of the effect of their emotional response to other people; drawing attention to them may resolve issues such as physical fights.
The adult – teacher or caretaker – must, at most times, maintain an approachable environment either through body language or facial expressions. Most of the emotional responses children exhibit are directed towards creating attention; responding to them in a manner that shows listening and responding to them may improve emotional responses. For instance, active listening allows the child to move past the aggression.
In the school environment, it is important that emotions identification go beyond a simple response such as “happy, sad, angry.” Mrs Marie-Claire Martin advises that a child instructor should use the mood meter, a tool that utilizes labeling and discussion to identify the emotion and what might have caused it. By labeling the emotion in the mood meter, the instructor is able to create effective responses and guidance from an information point of authority.
Mrs Martin recommends that instructors should be able to read the physical cues of the child while leading them to a positive emotional response . Physical cues include frowns, crossing arms, and teary faces. Recognizing the cue may allow the instructor to lead the child to describe their feeling, e.g., “I can see you are frowning! What happened? Did somebody hurt you?” Reading the cues enhances the child’s ability to self-regulate.
Mrs Marie-Claire Martin also advises that it is worth the instructor sharing their personal emotional stories in the classroom at other times. Sharing emotional experiences with a child allows them to understand how to regulate their own and how emotions expression affects other parties. The goal here should not just allow the child to listen but to invite them to think about how they feel and the appropriate response . At other times, the instructor should invite a child to share their emotions with the class.
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