Understanding Emotions & Reactions of Preschool Children:
The Implications for Teaching
Rusoff, Ashley Feller, Danielle Garzon, Justin Zavetz
Preschool is the time where a child's full time occupation is exploration of their environment. Children will use both their mind and body to learn in this stage of life. They learn with all their senses and their emotions. It can be a time of turbulence as children go from tantrums to using language to express their needs.
Teachers working with preschoolers know that they are not only educating their students about numbers and colors, they are helping the children understand and react appropriately to his or her emotions. It is important to provide innovative learning activities to model and reinforce the development of controlling and recognizing feelings and emotions as well as to teach children to play cooperatively in their emerging social environment.
Age Levels and Emotional Displays
- Social Development- At this age children are more apt to play with one another, the child will take turns, help with little tasks that need to be done, and they are talkative!
- Emotional Development- Wants to explore more, has a good attitude (most of the time), and is not resistant to change. Child will express emotion in a chaotic tantrum, or substantial display if they are mad, and or upset. If the child is happy they will laugh, play, and giggle with extreme excitement.
- Social Development- Enjoys playing in groups, plays games such as tag, or hide and seek. Very social, and more cooperative! Child starts to become aware of the fact that their actions have consequences, if he or she acts out in an intolerable manner at the snack table, the teacher just might take away his or her “computer time.”
- Emotional Development- Children at this age might have more of a negative attitude, may not listen very well to commands, constantly testing boundaries, and they are confident in themselves
- Social Development- They will hold back a crying-fit, and instead use their words to convey a message. However, at this stage there is more chance of unacceptable verbal actions, like name-calling. But for the most part enjoys playing games very much.
- Emotional Development- Children of age five are more conscious of their actions and expression of emotions. They will follow the rules, and are more self confident, will take on more responsibility
- 1.5-3 Years of Age - This milestone is centered around the child developing a sense of independence and self-esteem. You will notice that children in this stage of development will begin to take turns and share, as well as notice the feelings of their peers. In addition, rather than expressing anger with a physical response, they will begin solving their problems verbally.
3- 5 Years of Age - This milestone is characterized by the planning and initiating of activities among children. Children will start to feel secure in their leadership abilities and decision making skills. They will also start to see the difference between right and wrong, and grasp concepts that were once foreign to them, such as sharing. Watch for imaginative play among peers in this milestone as well.
This video shows a child in the sensorimotor stage, he is using symbolic thought to ploy with the blocks and is also exhibiting signs of entering the preoperational stage because counting can be considered an operation because it follows a set of rules. Click on the link to see for yourself!
Did You Know?
- Children start to become more self-aware at age 3! Through the acquirement of language, they begin using pronouns such as “I” and “me” and refer things as “mine.”
- Children at the age of 4 are very imaginative! Pretend play is seen more at this age; Girls will play "house" and boys will pretend to fight crime and save the day!
- Children at the age of 5 begin to control their urges! For example, he or she might ask to play with another child’s toy as opposed to just taking it.
- Kindergarten teachers say that 20% of children entering kindergarten do not have the necessary social and emotional skills to be "ready" for school.
- Social and emotional development is important both in its own right and because aspects of it facilitate cognitive development.
- When children are young, the adults around them (parents, other adult caregivers, preschool teachers) are the most important influences on their social and emotional development.
Implications for Teaching: Tips and Helpful Activities!
Preschool can have an impact on a child’s social and emotional manner. Understanding that acting out inappropriately in class is an unacceptable action in our society today, learning to control emotions and express emotions properly will benefit the child in the future.
We have provided some tips and helpful hints that can be implied in a teacher’s lesson plan. These tips and activities can create a healthy environment to show emotion in a more acceptable way, prevent harm of feelings, and improve the child’s social and emotional development.
Behaviors to Watch For in the Classroom
Red Flags Include:
If the child has difficulty sharing with others
If the child has difficulty joining in on play or lacks an interest in playing with peers
If the child has a hard time maintaining self-control when flustered
If the child seems passive or fearful
If the child seems withdrawn or sad, be sure to keep an eye on their artwork which can be a gateway to their feelings and thoughts
If the child is extremely rigid in their routines
If the child is too dependent on caregivers
The Taking Turns Game
- This activity is best used with the younger preschoolers. Show two or three children who will be participants of the turn taking game the toy and say enthusiastically, “We are going to play the turn taking game. First it will be my turn to play with Bozo the toy! When the bell rings it will be Bobby’s turn!” Set the timer to 15 seconds. Play with the toy while repeating in a singsong voice, “when the bell rings it will be Bobby’s turn”. When the bell rings, hand Bobby the toy and say, “It’s Bobby’s turn to play with the toy! When the bell rings it will be Suzie’s turn!” Set the timer for 15 seconds and then repeat the instructions, still using a singsong voice. When the bell rings, quickly hand the toy to Suzie. If Bobby fusses or cries about giving up the toy, ignore the emotion and say “It’s Suzie’s turn! When the bell rings it will be Bobby’s turn” (say the name of the child to keep his attention, not “your turn” which is responding to the emotional state). When the bell rings, give the toy back to Bobby and repeat. Having a large timer visible for all the children in the class to view would be helpful during this activity. Time is a very abstract and confusing concept for preschool age children, so having a large visual would help them understand why it is someone else's turn.
Books to Help Their Social and Emotional Growth
Fish by Marcus Pfister: This book is great for children who are just learning
how to share and helps them understand why sharing is important. This
correlates with Erickson’s milestone of Autonomy vs. Shame.
Teeth Are Not for Biting by Elizabeth Verdick: This is a wonderful
book for children who are learning how to deal with conflict in a nonviolent
manner. Reading this book will give a child alternatives for dealing with their
anger by chewing on a toy or asking for help.
How to Take the Grrr Out of Anger by Elizabeth Verdick: Anger is a very
difficult emotion for preschool aged children to learn how to deal with. This
book helps young readers to learn to deal with their anger and manage it in
How to Be a Friend by Laurie Krasny Brown: This book will help
preschool age children how to initiate friendships, handle arguments, and gives
the children concrete advice when it comes to maintaining lasting friendships.
Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg: This book shows children that
everybody makes mistakes, and that it is okay to do so! The author, Barney
Saltzberg, emphasizes that mistakes can help people learn new things.
- Encourage children to engage in cooperative and fantasy play by providing props and open play areas.
- Give children frequent opportunities to play, interact with peers, and make choices.
- Realize that young children may initially be cautious or fearful in a new classroom or other group; they will become more confident as they begin to form attachments to their teachers.
- Teach appropriate ways of handling negative emotions. Encourage children to "use their words" rather than pushing or hitting when angry.
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