Nurturing the Seed of Infinite Potentialities in Every Child
“It’s so hot out today!”
“I think it’s supposed to rain later.”
“What’s the weather like tomorrow?”
Weather is a go-to small talk topic. Why? Because it affects us all and changes each day. Knowledge about it allows us to predict what may happen, enjoy the outdoors safely, and prepare for severe weather.
Similarly, our emotions affect our daily lives and can change often, so we need to learn about them to have well-prepared strategies to work with them effectively. Social-emotional development (SED) has become a part of most school curriculum (often called social-emotional learning or SEL) and there is a multitude of SED resources and lesson plans to be found online. This is a good thing, as researchers have found
that children who are able to regulate their emotions are more prosocial (Eisenberg et al., 2015).
Prosocial behaviours are voluntary, positive behaviours that are meant to benefit others (Yavuz et al., 2022). Examples of prosocial behaviour are helping, caring, and sharing
We connected with parents and educators living and working in Ontario to learn what is happening in real time, finding that a few common themes emerged when we talked about what worked well to support children’s emotion regulation in the classroom and at home: learning about emotions, modelling and
working together, and being prepared and proactive.
1. Learn to Read the Weather
We teach children learn to wear a hat in the sun and bundle up in the cold so they can enjoy exploring and playing outdoors while being safe and staying heal-thy. In the same way, if we teach them what their emotions look and feel like, we can help children learn how to manage their emotions in healthy and appropriate ways.
SED starts at birth and at home. Oakville parent Ayşe Koçlar Volkan also uses a weather analogy to describe feelings with her son: “Sometimes our inner weather is rainy, sometimes sunny, or stormy, and all are okay, and all will pass. As we cannot judge a certain state of weather outside, we should not judge our own emotions.” All emotions are valid and being non-judgemental when speaking about feelings can build trust and allow us to open our minds and hearts to truly listen to what are children are telling us (be it through words or behaviour). We may not like the behaviour, but we always love the child. Let’s make sure they always know that.
Even emotions that seem negative or may lead to challenging behaviour have a purpose and are normal. For example, it’s normal to feel angry sometimes. This feeling is our brain telling us that there’s something making us feel uncomfortable, something is not right. Now that we get that signal, it’s time to do something about it, for example, to calm down by taking some deep breaths or taking a break from what we are doing. If we dismiss or otherwise invalidate feelings (“You don’t have to get mad about it!”), this may lead to the child feeling stuck, unsure or unable to deal with the feeling when it comes up again.
But before we can get there, we need to learn how to read the weather (or learn about emotions)— what do they look like, what do they feel like, what do they mean?
When children are learning to read, we point out environmental print, letters and words found all around the child such as stop signs, posters, fridge magnets, etc. For emotions, we can point out how emotions appear in books, videos, posters, music, dance, and other forms.
Renée Choi, a parent in Markham, and told us how she helped her child communicate her feelings better: “We found that our daughter had trouble labelling her emotions so a lot of the time she would say she’s feeling angry when she was actually feeling anxious, sad, jealous, etc.” To support her, Renée printed out a feelings chart so her daughter could more accurately identify which emotion she was feeling.
Deepika Gupta uses music as a way to help her children express themselves by attending library programs that involve singing songs and making art. In her kindergarten classroom in Bradford, Melissa Kanyo emphasizes social-emotional development through various strategies, including music. Her students learn to recognize their emotions through songs, stories, or rhymes.
Melissa also teaches them how to regulate their emotions in a healthy way through verbal coaching or using physical activities like dancing. For “big” emotions (for example, anger, frustration, and excitement), Melissa guides her students in understanding them by breaking down these challenging emotions: “I can tell you are feeling _ _ _ _. It is not safe to _ _ _ when you feel that way but we can do _ _ _ instead.”
2. Weathering the storm together
Thunderstorms can be scary, especially if you’re experiencing it for the first time. Adults have lived through many storms throughout their lives and can understand that all storms will come to an end. However, children are still learning about big emotions, understanding what they are and how to manage them so that they can problem-solve, feel better, and move forward. Of course, it usually feels better when you know you’re in it together with someone who you can trust.
Mishaal Khan co-regulates emotions with her baby through gentle touch (hugs and kisses) and reassurances, “sometimes singing his favourite rhyme.” She feels that participating in family support programs such as EarlyON Child and Family Centres has helped both her baby and given her support as a parent as well.
“Sometimes we need to take a step back before giving advice and learn to be great listeners. We need to validate emotions rather than trying to have a solution to all the problems at hand. Sometimes all one needs is the feeling of being heard.”
At school, educators are still observing the impact of COVID-19 on students’ well-being. Steven Chan, a secondary school vice principal in Mississauga, emphasized how, “for students that were struggling to regulate their emotions…I took the time to know more about each student and their identities more deeply. By having a trusting relationship with students, they are more open to communicating with you about their challenges, struggles, and ways to happiness.” This approach allows students to be able to find support during their emotional “storms” and, as many educators will attest, it always goes back to relationships. Students are likely to appreciate knowing that they’re not alone and that they are weathering the storm together, as a team.
And sometimes, less is more. Sherry Blasizzo is a pre-/postnatal program facilitator at Our Kids Count in Thunder Bay and supports parents prenatally through the first year of life. Her advice to educators shows how observing and understanding children’s emotions before finding a solution is essential: “Sometimes we need to take a step back before giving advice and learn to be great listeners. We need to validate emotions rather than trying to have a solution to all the problems at hand. Sometimes all one needs is the feeling of being heard.”
3. Keep an eye on the sky
Meteorologists are constantly studying and tracking weather systems to help us understand what to expect from the weather. To be able to understand and predict our children’s emotions, we can observe and find patterns in their emotional health.
And just as we have developed methods to predict weather, parents can develop ways to predict their child’s emotional reactions and behaviour through observation, keeping an eye on emotional patterns or “triggers” to proactively help children navigate challenging situations.
For example, Renée shared that when her daughter felt overwhelmed by a school project, she avoided working on it and then became frustrated as the due date approached. Renée and her husband worked with their daughter to break down the project into smaller, more manageable steps. This strategy helped their daughter become more confident and positive about working on school projects. “She’s also learning that it’s ok to ask for help so whenever she does, we consider that a win!”
Sasha Khan also helps her child be prepared for highly charged emotions by putting together a “calm down kit” containing items such colouring books with her favourite characters, Elsa and Anna.
After quarantining and being away from social interactions for a long time, Brampton-based educator Mabel Appiah-Kubi noticed a change in her students when in-person learning came back. Mabel works with students from kindergarten to grade eight with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Brampton and she observed that some of her students demonstrated more anxiety than before when new people entered the classroom, including supply teachers and new school staff. Close observation has helped Mabel and her team better meet students’ individual needs and work with them to support their learning and well-being.
Interested more about emotion regulation tips? Check out Dr. Ruthie Speidel’s article on evidence-based strategies. You may notice that many of our educators here are using similar strategies to support their students!
Of course, weather predictions can change over time and are not always accurate, and this goes for our emotions too. One thing that will remain the same is their need for you to be a consistent safe space for them.
Talking about weather may seem mundane at times, but it can be helpful because we gain information, understand more about our relationship to it, and bond with others over it. Talking to others about our feelings also helps us connect and learn about ourselves and others. Teaching our children about emotions and helping them to regulate them is an ongoing process as they grow and develop.
We can’t stop the storm, but we can hold an umbrella, show our children how to dress for the weather, and appreciate the need and beauty of rain. And, once the storm has passed, we can go splash in the puddles together and look out for rainbows!
Special thanks to the parents and educators who contributed their time and knowledge to this article.