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Teaching Children about Handling Disappointment and Difficult Emotions

Teaching Children about Handling Disappointment and Difficult Emotions Handling intense emotions and the disappointment when things don’t go their way are challenging for young children (and even adults!) to navigate. But teachers can help children develop techniques to handle difficult emotions. Here are some ideas:

 Throughout the day, model labeling your own emotions. For example, “I feel frustrated because I cannot open this jar of paint.”

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 Help children learn to label their emotions when they have conflict with other children: “Bobby, it looks like you are feeling angry because Terrence took away your toy. Can you tell Terrence how it makes you feel when he takes your toy away?”

 When children cry, identify their feelings, and yours too. “I know that was really scary falling off the slide. I was worried about you. I am glad you are okay. Is there something I can do to help you until you feel better?”

 Help children learn how to take deep breaths by “smelling the flowers” and “blowing out the birthday candles.” Knowing how to breathe deeply is an important part of learning how to calm down when angry or upset.

 Give children materials to use to get out their anger. They can use a toy hammer, squeeze playdough, or run laps at recess. Let them know that it is okay to be angry and that there are safe ways to express anger.

 Act out the difference between feeling tense (like a robot or statue) and relaxed (like a rag doll or stuffed animal). Have children act it out, too, so they begin to learn to identify when they are becoming wound up.

 Help children learn to label their own emotions. You can say, “It looks like you are really frustrated over here. What is the problem?”

 Give children different situations, such as “A child is very sad because he misses his mom,” and let them act it out. Talk about the emotion and some things the child might do to feel better.

 Children’s storybooks have lots of opportunities to talk about dealing with certain emotions. Point out characters’ simple emotions like happy, sad, mad, and excited, and

look for opportunities to label more complex ones like disappointed, frustrated, surprised, and embarrassed. See what the characters do to deal with those emotions and whether or not the children think it was a good way. Brainstorm other things that could have been done when the characters were feeling that way.

 If children are feeling sad at drop-off, have them “write” a letter or draw a picture to show their caregivers at pick-up time. Talk about how it is ok to feel sad, but that their caregiver will come back at the end of the day. 

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