4 Strategies to Raise HUMAN(E) Beings!
Updated: Feb 5
This blog will explore and explain how to:
1. Teach and promote emotions and sensation words (emotional and sensory literacy).
2. Teach your child to recognize the size of their emotions and sensations in their body (size of sensations and emotions).
3. Teach self-regulation skills when they recognize their feelings as being medium or large (self-regulation skills).
4. Teach and support children in analyzing potential solutions to a problem, perspective taking, having empathy for all involved, and looking at varying outcomes of a problem (problem-solving skills).
Read the simple tips below for how to better understand, teach and promote each of these strategies with your child...
1. Emotion and Sensory Vocabulary. From a very young age, teach children feeling words. Sad, mad, angry, surprised, scared, happy, frustrated, worried and nervous are a few. The list of feeling words is long and as they get older, steadily increase their vocabulary of words that describe feelings. As you read books together, tune them into the feelings of the characters, help them name feelings they may have in the moment, share how you feel (age appropriate and without causing distress) and/or use a feeling poster as a visual aid in your classroom or home. Teaching the vocabulary of emotions is the first step to creating humans to be human(e). Sensory language and literacy may be a new concept, but it is simple. Sensory literacy are those words that describe the physiological sensations you feel in your body. When a child feels an emotion, that feeling is often accompanied by a physiological sensation such as heart racing, butterflies in their stomach, a pounding drum beating in their heart, heavy rocks in their head, itchy skin etc. For more information on teaching sensory and emotional literacy with young children, find a 16-page free user guide and 22-minute video at optimalbrainintegration.com, or leverage my phone/tablet application called Trigger Stop: Sensory and Emotional Check-In.
Trigger Stop: Sensory and Emotional Check-In Application is an APP that teaches sensory and emotional literacy for children ages 3-8 years. For more information visit http://www.optimalbrainintegration.com/app-1 for a free user guide and video tutorial
2. Size of Emotions and Sensations. While continuing to teach children feeling and sensory vocabulary words (step 1), begin to scaffold the next skill (step 2) of helping them learn how to recognize the size of their emotions - small (green), medium (orange) or large (red) inside of themselves. How can you help children learn when a certain emotion is small, medium or large? You can use thermometers to accompany feeling charts, read books and help them recognize feelings and how small, medium or large they are using the characters of the book. Tune them in to identify when they have a feeling, help them identify the size, and also understand that feelings are temporary and will pass with time. After your child has experienced a problem, when they are calm, help them reflect back on the size of their emotions and the choices they made as a result. Understanding the scope of their emotions is essential in order to teach the next step #3 called self-regulation.
Using visual aids such as this one or feeling thermometers can help children see and better understand that emotions are experienced at different levels of intensity.
3. Self-Regulation and Managing Big Emotions. Once a child can start to identify the sensations and emotions inside of themselves and how small, medium or large their feelings are, next they must learn to build and use self-regulation skills. As infants, self-regulation comes from a nurturing and responsive adult. If I gave you a crying baby, what would you do? Check their diaper, try to see if they are hungry, rock them, hum or sing with a soothing tone? Babies are regulated through adults. As a baby turns toddler age, they use additional means to self-soothe. Some use a comfort object such as a blanket or stuffed animal in addition to a loving caregiver. As children increase in age, we can begin to teach them how to access other healthy strategies to regulate their big emotions. Children can be taught to use a safe person, place, object and/or activity that will regulate their activated sensory response system. When a child becomes stressed or emotionally triggered, their heart rate increases, pupils dilate and their mind begins to race, which is when they are more apt to be reactive - potentially causing harm to others, themselves or property. It takes years of practice to develop the muscles necessary for calming and self-regulating, and to “pause” so one can actually problem-solve with clarity and access higher executive functioning skills such as thinking, perspective-taking, empathy and reasoning. It takes even more practice for a human to execute on these first three steps in the middle of an emotional storm.
4. Problem Solving Skills. Did you know the brain is a muscle? It takes approximately 25 years to build a brain with the adult wiring that can handle our typical daily roller coaster of emotions, problems and navigating complex relationships. As adult caregivers, we continually cast the spotlight of our children’s attention externally most of their childhood. Then, because of the continuous focus outward, children grow up and have difficulty handling their daily relationships and problems. That is why it is so important to also maintain focus on the three steps listed above throughout childhood. There is an entire universe of feelings and sensations inside each child that they have to recognize and manage daily. Because we don’t cast their attention inward (with these 4 steps you are learning in this blog), they are at risk to grow in to adulthood unable to identify their emotions, manage and regulate their feelings and solve problems logically so they do not cause harm to others, themselves or property. Casting a child’s attention inward using these four simple steps and practicing them daily as they grow up will support wiring their brain to automatically respond with healthy strategies, rather than react with harm when faced with daily stressors or triggering events. Help your child or children you work with now by practicing these 4 steps throughout their youth. Then when they become an adult and are on their own, they will be capable of handling difficult and emotionally complex situations and living in a way that makes our planet a more loving and humane place.
Julie Kurtz is the CEO and Founder of the Center for Optimal Brain Integration. She trains, consults and provides keynotes on trauma informed practices and resilience. Ms. Kurtz is a co-author of Trauma-Informed Practices for Early Childhood Educators: Relationship-Based Approaches that Support Healing and Build Resilience in Young Children and the book
Culturally Responsive Self-Care for Early Childhood Educators (amazon or kindle). Ms. Kurtz is the creator of the phone/tablet application (APP) Trigger Stop: Sensory and Emotional Check-In designed specifically for children ages 3-8 years to promote sensory and emotional literacy and to support self-regulation.
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