As practitioners, we know how important supporting children’s personal, social and emotional development is, particularly in today’s society where children’s mental health (and mental health in general) is so prevalent. Statistics from the Mental Health Foundation say that at least 1 in 10 children (aged 5 – 16 years) experience some form of mental illness as a direct response of things they have experienced, yet as many as 70% of these children will not have received sufficient interventions within their early years. (www.mentalhealth.org.uk)
We have a duty of care to these children to do anything in our power to reduce these staggering statistics and equip our children’s emotional arsenal with tools to deal with the trials and tribulations the modern world puts upon them as they grow up. Early intervention and the right emotional support within a child’s early years, enables children to become emotionally intelligent and resilient young people.
Throughout our every day practice and provision, the children’s emotional development, resilience and intelligence should be at the forefront of everything we do. We cannot expect children to learn literacy, maths and problem solving skills when they aren’t emotionally ready to learn and as practitioners it is our responsibility to support the emotional wellbeing of the children we care for, ensuring that they are aware of their emotions, what they mean and ultimately ‘feel’ like to a young child, provide them with developmentally appropriate tools to manage and process these emotions, before developing their understanding of the emotional needs of others and how we can be mindful and supportive of each other in order to develop friendships, relationships and empathy.
Supporting and guiding children to be emotionally intelligent and resilient is not as difficult as it sounds, particularly within the Early Years, we are in a prime position to lay the foundations of emotional literacy for our children; the earlier we introduce children to becoming aware of, feeling, identifying and processing their emotions, the more likely they will be to grow into emotionally balanced and intelligent young people.
‘Difficult’ or ‘challenging’ behaviours that children may display are generally outward responses of emotions they are feeling and trying to process; it is our job to not only identify these behaviours as a cry for help, but to also support them with processing these emotions and also most importantly, to allow them to truly ‘feel’ their emotions. Children need opportunities to experience and ‘feel’ a wide range of emotions in order to develop the appropriate skills to recognise, identify and manage emotions; if we try to ‘protect’ children from ‘negative’ feelings (anger, sadness, fear) or ‘fix’ or prevent them from having these negative experiences that may trigger difficult emotions, then how will they ever possess the emotional tools to process these emotions constructively? For children, understanding and ‘owning’ their emotions is supported by their developing language and their understanding of the words and phrases we, as practitioners, use in relation to their emotions.
As a result, the words we use to identify, recognise, discuss and process emotions and behaviours has a significant impact on how children will react, respond and understand the varying emotions they feel. For example; instead of saying “Don’t be scared” when a child is feeling fearful, we could ask them “What are you scared of?”, “Why are you feeling scared?”, “What scares you about this?” This way, the child begins to mentally process the emotion they are experiencing and dissect it to begin to understand ‘why’ they feel this type of emotion and how to work through it. Similarly, simply telling a child “Stop crying”, “You don’t need to cry”, doesn’t support their emotional intelligence and enable them to investigate why they are crying or what it is that is causing them to feel upset.
As adults, we know that emotionally we all have different triggers, different ways of dealing with the emotions we experience; children are exactly the same and will all process and react a range of emotions in varying levels of behaviour, it is our duty as their key people to determine, understand and support each child’s individual emotional range, find tools to support them in processing and understanding each emotion, before encouraging them to identify and support the emotions of their peers.
An emotionally rich environment supported by emotionally intelligent adults, is key in supporting children’s emotional well-being, as well as resources that provide children with the opportunity to explore different emotions of different people and opportunities to practice and identify various emotions. Providing children with various resources to support them in exploring these things through their play and in their own time, is fundamental to cementing their learning and understanding of emotions. We also need to provide children with a wide variety of stories and books that discuss and explore different real-life scenarios that can unleash different emotions (For example; parental separation, moving house, the transition to school or to a new setting, a new baby etc.) and explore how these are addressed and managed through stories as well as a vast array of imaginative play experiences to practice and develop the skills needed to identify and support the emotions of themselves and others.
Where developmentally appropriate, introducing simple mindfulness activities and techniques to provide the children with the time and space to think about, feel and process their feelings in a constructive and calm way is also conducive to the resilience of the children’s emotional well-being and intelligence.
We all have a role to play as professionals and children’s early educators to ensure that we know how to adequately support the mental health and emotional intelligence of our young children in order to support them in growing into emotionally resilient and intelligent young adults.
Pebbles Childcare was started in 2015 by Bridgit Brown to provide a holistic, educational and healthy home from home setting for your child. In 2016, Chloe Webster joined Pebbles as the business grew.
Chloe is a successful writer, contributing to Nursery World, EYE, Nursery Management Today and ABC magazine, as well as managing the Pebbles Childcare Blog. Pebbles Childcare are not only recognised in the locality as a successful business and childcare provision but have also been recognised through various local and national awards in the past three years.
Most recently, Pebbles Childcare were the first winners of a brand new category at the renowned Nursery World Awards 2018 and were recognised as ‘Childminding Business of The Year
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