I’m a huge maths fan. I was lucky enough to have some fab teachers and both my grandads always had a passion for maths that they passed on to me. Floss has been enjoying letting us know when she has two of something and likes to join in with saying the even numbers when we count things like buttons and poppers on her clothing. I hadn’t thought it was time to introduce her to numerals yet, however, we had some friends stay with their two children. One a couple of months younger than Floss and one who’s 3.5 years old. I got out puzzles with numerals for the older boy and she was really interested in them. Perfect timing for the arrival of a box of SumBlox from Yesbebe.co.uk to review (I’ve got three weeks before I need to return them – update – I never returned them, we loved them and I bought them!). The numeral 2 is always with her right now!
As well as the emergence of an interest in number numerals we’ve seen the return of some big emotions, especially anger and frustration; I don’t think this lovely, warm weather is helping. I’ve therefore put out some of our familiar feelings resources and have added activities that will help to bring about a little calm when these feelings are present. Below I’ve added some of the things I do, from experience with floss, but mainly from teaching in the early years and the reasoning behind why it’s so important to be present and help our children navigate the sea of emotions.
Do your little ones ever struggle with big emotions? I think there are often several reasons, and at times a combination, for why our children show these big emotions. It’s very normal, as adults we can also find dealing with how we feel tricky, and for little ones they have not yet learnt how they can manage these feelings. It’s important that we help them understand how they are feeling, why they might be feeling that way and how they can help themselves to regulate their emotions.
Why might they be having these feelings?
- Poorly/ injured
- Weather conditions – too hot – windy (Ask teachers – even the calmest class can go a little crazy on a windy day!)
- Overwhelmed/ overstimulated
- Frustrated – for example because they can’t do something yet or they want something they can’t have or that someone else has
- Friendship troubles
The ability to self regulate our emotions does not begin to come until after three years of age when the orbitofrontal cortex part of our brain develops; the part of our brain responsible for emotional intelligence. Once this part of the brain has developed it needs interaction with others to be able to make sense of emotions and develop self regulation. The experiences your child receives now will make up how they interrelate with the world and others around them.
During this learning stage something can seem very small and insignificant to us but can turn into a huge struggle for them as they wrestle with understanding and bringing their emotions back under control. It’s very new to me as a parent, but as an early years teacher this is something I’ve supported many children with. I think it is very different as a parent, than a teacher. As a teacher you can be more detached as your emotions are not entangled in the situation, but as a parent you are able to comfort a child in a way only a parent can.
When the emotion is still small these things can help:
- Start to use language to help them understand their feelings and label them. I can see you are angry/ upset/ sad because… and describe to them why. Let them know it’s OK to feel that way. Some children you may be able to ask what they could do next time and they may be able to come up with ideas. Others you could give them two choices of how to resolve the situation.
- Water and food – keeping a small snack in your bag/car for when out and about can really help.
- Are they due a nap? Is it time for bedtime? We have two types of bedtime routine for us. The slow languishing, everyday routine and the speedy, panic stations routine (think swans though – still serenely calm on the surface) – they have the same things, bath, teeth, PJs, stories & songs, snuggles & smooches, but the bath won’t have a hair wash, oral story telling rather than book, so we can control the length, shorter songs etc.
- A hug – these are the most AMAZING and are also the best thing when emotions go big. Your body actually helps them to regulate how they are feeling.
- Have a back up plan – always take a little something for entertainment. We have a little bag (see below) that fits a multitude of things in that really help with lots of the doctor and hospital appointments we go to. A sticker book is also a great back up plan for us.
- Distracting them with something else.
- Give a choice to help focus their mind. For example if a child is not happy about eating lunch, giving a choice such as would you like to eat a carrot or a pea first can help to calm things down.
- Read a favourite book together.
- Sing songs.
- Humour can really deescalate a situation.
- Count something, anything! This is a very simple idea and helps them to move away from their current train of thought.
- Lastly, do you need to say ‘no’? Little ones are very curious and as long as they are safe I would always ask yourself do you need to say no. Eloise from Frida Be Mighty wrote a truly thought provoking post around this topic – link here.
Whatever you chose to do to help calm the small emotion it’s really good to talk about it afterwards, once the situation is calm. This is what helps them learn to label how they are feeling and begin to talk about their emotions and develop strategies to help in future situations. For example, I could see you were upset and might have been hungry, so I gave you a snack. If you feel hungry again let Mummy or Daddy know/ help yourself to a snack.
Sometimes we don’t see the small emotions building up or the big emotions seem to erupt from nowhere. They have many different names meltdown, tantrum, out-burst, mood, rage, temper, whatever you like to call them, they can seem like a volcano. What’s important to understand in these situations is that most of the strategies above won’t work in this situation. This is because of our brains again. Our brain is made up of three different parts (Neocortex, Limbic System and Reptilian Complex). A simplistic way of describing these parts is the thinking, feeling and survival parts of the brain respectively. When we are angry/ upset/ hurt/ scared stress signals are set off in the feeling part of the brain, which shut down the thinking part of the brain. This means that your little one will not be able to hear what you are saying. If the feeling part of the brain gets overwhelmed and flooded with these stress signals then the survival part of the brain is left in charge (flight/ flight/ freeze response). Leaving a child on their own, such as time out, in these situations can actually make things much worse as they are not able to regulate themselves. You need to help them bring their feeling part of the brain back to an equilibrium. You have a secret weapon! Your feeling system can actually communicate with their feeling system and help them gain back their balance through your presence, expressions and touch.
How to help big emotions:
- Be there – even if they are pushing you away make sure that you are still in sight.
- Gradually move closer at a pace they seem comfortable with – this can take a while.
- Make sure your expression is soft and welcoming.
- Gentle touch such as holding their hand when they are ready.
- Hugs, hugs and more hugs, when the time is right.
- Once things seem calmer you could use some of the ideas for smaller emotions to help further balance the limbic system.
Again, as with small emotions, it’s important when they are calm to talk through what happened and help them to learn how to deal with similar situations again. I hope some of these ideas help when your little one is needing help to regulate how they feel. Our shelves this week have a selection of things I’m using to help with the manifestation of Floss’s big emotions right now.
The Hape eggs are back out. We’ve found these really great in helping Floss to name how she is feeling. We love practising faces for different emotions. The books give examples of when you might feel a certain way, which are great to share together – especially after there has been a display of emotions. It helps them to understand that how they are feeling is a normal response.
Tickle, Tickle is one of Floss’s favourite books since she was small. It’s one that always helps to calm her down as it has a really lovely rhythm and a very predictable pattern. She joins in with actions, which also helps to distract her. Floss loves nursery rhymes. The beautiful cube is a handmade custom order by Sian at Story Props. Floss rolls the dice and then we sing and do the actions to the song together, another great calming down strategy. The Ocamora ‘teniques’ gems are a favourite in our house with everyone. Sometimes if I just start to stack, Floss will come and start helping to stack and gradually calm down as she does. It normally ends in lots of laughter as the gems tumble all over the place.
Another stunning custom order cube from Sian at Story Props we’ve teamed up with story cubes from Learning Resources. Floss rolls a dice, and if she can, names the character, setting or prop and then I make up a little mini story to go with it. Great fun! We use the little feely bag to put all the cubes in so that she can pick out the cube from the bag; it just adds to the excitement for her.
The final little shelf has one of the number puzzles she’s become fascinated with. As I said earlier she has begun to tell us when she has two of something. When the Sumblox arrived I told her which one was the number two numeral. She kept going for the number two and putting it next to two objects, such as two of her Lanka kade matching animals. I wondered if she’d just learnt that the numeral two was an object called 2 or whether there was some understanding that the symbol was a 2. I put together the Sumblox and the number puzzle in a little bowl and asked her to find the twos. She did take out both numeral twos and then pointed at the remaining. I said they were called four. We’re now very into two and four! You don’t need to worry about when to introduce concepts to your children, they will tell you what direction they want to go and when they are ready. Child led, always.