If I had to condense our overarching goal of preschool into a single sentence it would be to encourage our children to value their thoughts and feelings and to use them to make active choices that will allow them to lead a fulfilling life. (Of course, imbuing children with knowledge of their world and guiding their skills-acquisition flows seamlessly from this attitude.)
Dr. Haim Ginott writes that an indicator of a quality teacher is one who “helps children recognize and respect their inner feelings. Above all, he is cautious not to confuse children about how they feel.”
Wow! “Above all, he is cautious not to confuse children about how they feel.” What does that mean? So often, when our children share with us their emotions – for example: I am angry! Or, I am scared – we come back with “You have nothing to be angry about,” or, “There is nothing to be afraid of.” Instead of helping the child work through his/her feelings, this attitude forces the child to stifle his/her emotion, filling him/her with confusion.
When a child is told, "There is nothing to be afraid of," his or her fear increases. Dr. Haim Ginott describes it this way: “The child gets thrice frightened: In addition to his original fear (1), he is now afraid to be afraid (2), and fearful that he will not be able to hide his fright (3). Fear does not vanish when banished. It does not disappear when its existence is not recognized. When a child is afraid, it is best to acknowledge his fear openly and with respect.”
This attitude applies to all emotions. How does a bashful child feel when she or he is advised, “don’t be shy,” or a child in pain is told, “there is nothing to cry about” or a child with a problem, “everyone has such problems,” or “there is nothing to worry about”?
Rather than deny their emotions we must encourage the child to explore them. Then – only then – can the child control it.
The other day I overheard a child say to his teacher, “But I want it now!” The child desperately wanted the toy that another child was using. He was old enough to understand that he must wait his turn; this “whine” was more about his not getting his desire immediately satiated. The teacher smiled at him, acknowledging his desire and said, “I do understand how much you want the toy. It is a fun toy to play with. Do you think you can hold on to that feeling for a little while? Do you think you can save it for a bit until your friend is finished playing with it?” The child gave the teacher the widest, brightest smile. “Yes!” he responded, “I think I can!”
When a child is sad/scared/angry/jealous or happy/proud/bubbly, we get right there with them. We allow the child to taste his or her feeling. Otherwise we risk turning our children into people who don’t really understand their own emotions. When children share their emotions with us, we thank the child for sharing, we rephrase their words so that the child sees that we understand what she or he said, and then we help them work through it. Not with quick fix responses, but by gently encouraging the child to find a solution. “That must really hurt. What do you think you can do about it?”
I have seen this work countless times!