Teaching Self-Regulation and Emotional Language

Emotional and social development is one of the domains of early childhood education. Even though we may recognize the importance of teaching children these skills, we may be a little lost on how to actually do it!

Let’s break it down into three steps that we can think of as we play and teach beside our children.


Step1: State the Behavior and Help Identify the Emotion

Our guidance policy focuses on the positive. However, that doesn’t mean just focusing on just “good things” happening. It means that we don’t label a behavior as “bad”. We state the behavior clearly and briefly.


“Dylan, you are climbing on the table.”


Did you know that the emotions that we feel can be described as primary and secondary. Many people struggle with understanding their own emotional state. We usually feel a wide range of emotions in response to situations around us. If we’re feeling upset, it could be that we think we are just mad. However, diving deeper, we can start to identify that we are feeling misunderstood, taken advantage of, or maybe even guilty for feeling a negative emotion. It’s the same with children, they could be feeling anger, but also anxious or rejection.


As children develop their language skills, they are also developing their ability to understand more complex emotional vocabulary. Staying positive while labeling the behavior, you can help expand their emotions.


“Dylan, you are climbing on the table. You seem so excited to play with the sand.”


Step 2: Explain Behavior and Implications

This is where we can help the child learn our reasons why we are asking them to regulate their behavior. Cause and effect and reasoning skills are being built at this step. Why don’t we adults just leave water on the floor? We know that it might seep into the pad of the rug or someone might accidentally slip and hurt themselves.


“Dylan, you are climbing on the table. You seem so excited to play with the sand. Tables aren’t for climbing, we can hurt ourselves.”


Step 3: Address and Give Options

Ok! Children are aware of what their bodies are doing. They have an opportunity to examine emotions, and they are now aware that there is a reason why they shouldn’t continue with their behavior. What now? This is where we can create a win for the children by teaching them and guiding them on what actions they CAN take. Depending on a child’s cognitive, language and emotional development, there’s many options available.


“Dylan, you are climbing on the table. You seem so excited to play with the sand. Tables aren’t for climbing, we can hurt ourselves. Instead, let’s do our excited dance - in our seats - on the floor -with a friend.”


An important note about Wellspring: We don’t do timeouts or punitive consequences. We focus on the facts and give alternatives that are age appropriate and accomplishable.


Thoughts to consider:

An important thing to keep in mind is that learning and development is not purely linear. As children grow stronger skills, they still need support and guidance from their parents and caregivers and may have to revisit through these steps multiple times. Patience and deep understanding of the individual are key to ensure building a trusting and respectful relationship.


If a child is particularly attached to the behavior, it can be hard to understand and work through. They may be unable to articulate that they are feeling excited, but also a bit anxious about the sand because last time- Marvin grabbed the toys that they wanted and took most of the sand. That could be a reason that they are trying to be first. Keeping in mind that unsaid underlying issues could be at play can help you find a solution that works for the two of you!


Children need scaffolding as they work through conflicts with peers and you! While they begin the process of coming up with solutions to their own problems, it is our responsibility to be a guidance counselor, mediator, and a wise guide able to help them through this tough part of life.


As we all work together to help teach self regulation and effective communication to our little ones, let us know your thoughts about what you do to help!




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