Emotional meltdowns are to be expected from children under five, but there are ways we can tackle chronic overreaction, says Sue Cowley…
The younger a child is, the more likely they are to become caught up in the whirlwind of their own emotional and/or physical state.
If a small child is tired, unhappy, hungry, anxious or feeling stressed, this may result in what we refer to as ‘difficult’ behaviour.
The inability to deal with stress or upset might be expressed via a tantrum, but equally a child could also become withdrawn and unresponsive.
Helping children learn how to regulate their own internal reactions is a key part of helping them build an understanding of what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour in different situations.
At the same time, we must be clear with them that it is okay to express their feelings.
One of your new starters overreacts to every tiny problem. She clings to her dad’s leg when he goes to leave. She has a tantrum if she cannot play with the toy she wants. She gets very grumpy indeed towards the end of the morning session, and bursts into tears when her dad arrives to pick her up.
You want to support her through her outbursts, but you worry that by doing so you might encourage her to have more of them.
We must strike a delicate balance when comforting children who are in the throes of emotional upset. If we react too quickly, and focus too much on that moment of emotional reaction, we may encourage the child to see expressions of anger as a means to gain attention.
You should always comfort an upset child, but there are many strategies you can use to help them develop self-regulation as well.Pre-empt, distract
When dealing with behaviour, consider why it is happening, because that can help us figure out how we might prevent the situation occurring in the first place. For instance, in the scenario above…
When a child is tantruming, it’s difficult to resist doing everything you can to quieten them down. Of course you want to comfort the child, but if you always do all the work, the child never gets the chance to calm themselves. It can work well to distract them from their anger, particularly if they are prone to tantrums. You might…
One of the keys to helping children learn how to calm themselves is to gradually increase the challenges you set them. You might help your children by…
Sue Cowley is an educational author and helps to run an ‘outstanding’ preschool.