Children cry because they have limited access to advanced vocabulary and to the advanced mental processing needed to express complex emotions.
My favorite method for helping children navigate their emotions occurred to me while working at a pediatric hospital. I noticed the pain chart the doctors used to help children communicate the intensity of their pain. This little chart with emojis lined up in progressive order from happy to extremely distressed, allowed medical teams to quickly and accurately gauge their tiny patients' physical states.
Kindergarten children love to boast what they have learned. They quickly become familiar with the basic emotions of sad, happy, and angry. They speak in colors and symbols and can understand the progression of numbers. This knowing gives them the necessary tools needed to express any emotion they may be feeling.
The next time your child is tantruming or crying, let them let it out for a moment or two. Then gently ask them if they are angry. Ask them if they are sad. Once they have chosen the right emotion, use your fingers to help them rate their level of distress from zero to five. Hold up your fist of fingers and ask,
“Are a sad a zero-not at all? (Hold up your fist)
A one- a tiny bit sad? (Hold up one finger, etc.)
A two- a little bit sad?
A three- medium sad?
A four-very sad?
A five-very VERY sad?”
After this explanation, count on your fingers one more time, slowly letting them take their time to choose the accurate rating.
“Are you sad a zero..., one..., two..., three..., four..., five...?”
Once they have chosen the accurate emotion with the accurate rating they have hopefully calmed down enough for you to ask what happened, and suggest some solutions that might make them feel better.
Common solutions you might offer may include staying sad for five more minutes, drinking water, getting a hug. (Ex. "Do you want to stay sad for five more minutes?”).
Encouraging your little learner to develop strong resilience and coping strategies at an early age will allow them to overcome life’s hurdles as they navigate that sometimes very arduous journey into and through adulthood.
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