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One of the most fundamental differences in the worlds of adults and children is their perception and evaluation of emotions. Preschool children have a very high ability to understand emotions from other people’s facial expressions and nonverbal messages.
Adults, on the other hand, take into account verbal messages and explanations to understand emotions. This situation can be considered as an important starting point for their children to develop their emotional literacy in the preschool period.
Emotions are signs of needs
First of all, it is important to remember that emotions are a sign of need. When both children and adults show an expression of emotion, they are actually pointing to a physical, relational, and social need.
For example, someone who is angry may try to explain that their boundaries have been violated, and someone who is upset may try to explain that they have experienced a loss. Therefore, it is important for teachers and parents to know that the emotions felt by the children are an indicator of need.
Children can often do this with nonverbal expressions rather than words. Therefore, phrases such as “You are upset that you lost your toy”, “You are angry because your friend did not let you play.” will help children describe their emotions.
Emotions need to be defined and explained
Children can understand emotions intuitively at an early age, by looking at non-verbal expressions. Words are learned later and take time to be used effectively and functionally. Therefore, it is very important that parents and teachers express their feelings. In other words, it will be a learning experience for the child to explain what the emotion you feel, why you feel that way, what your need is.
If you tell the children, “I’m angry right now because you don’t listen to me when I repeat the activity rules.” children will be able to understand the reason for the anger on your face. This is important because children are adept at recognizing emotion, but may fall under the illusion that your emotion is often self-related.
Emotions are not wrong-right, good-bad
Every emotion is as natural as being thirsty, hungry, or cold. We can even accept them as feelings and emotions. Therefore, it is perfectly natural to be angry with someone, to be afraid of someone or something, to be sad, to be happy, to be jealous, to miss, to worry. However, the thought you reach after the feeling and the behavior you do can be right or wrong.
For example, a child may be jealous of a friend. If after this feeling he/she has the thought of being worthless, rivaling his/her friend, stealing the attention given to him/her, this is the thought that needs to be intervened. In addition, his/her behavior to that friend after jealousy can be accepted as right or wrong.
As a parent or teacher, you can start with acknowledging the child’s emotion, listening to it, and correcting the distortions it makes involuntarily (because it is a child) while making sense of it. A good way of intervention can be listening first, then telling that everyone can have these feelings, and then responding to the need causing that emotion.
To put it concretely, you can say “You are jealous of your friend and may be angry because you think we are more interested in him/her, maybe you think your friends are not as interested in you as they used to be. Let’s talk about what we can do to solve this problem.” instead of saying “Don’t be jealous, we love you too” to a child who is jealous of his/her friend.
Emotions are not felt by force
It is often seen that preschool children express instant love and hate. Because emotions can change quickly in childhood depending on whether they get what they want at that moment. That’s why it doesn’t make sense to tell a child to “love” or “don’t love” someone.
Children have the feeling of liking or not, depending on the relationship they have with that person. In other words, they feel whatever that relationship means to them, according to the way they are in an exchange. So, expressions like “Look what a beautiful friend, come on, love him.” or “You have to love your grandma.” may not be very meaningful in the child’s world. In short, the child feels appropriate for how the relationship develops. For emotions to be meaningful and functional in a child’s world, adults also need to accept their own emotions.
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