In this month’s Ask the Expert, we welcome Chloe Webster, an early childhood educator who co-minds at Pebbles Childcare, discussing how we can use our language and actions to support children’s emotions during their early years…
- Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in the Early Years (EY) sector:
I’ve worked in the childcare sector for over 10 years across a variety of age groups, and in a number of roles. Having started my career in a day nursery environment, I have been a home-based childcare provider and co-mind at Pebbles with Bridgit Brown.
- With expertise in special education, inclusion, and behaviour management, why is it important to bolster this knowledge?
Having always been the INCo/SENDCo in settings, I’m there to provide the best possible care for EY children with additional needs. I’ve completed numerous courses including ‘Understanding Children’s Behaviour’, ‘Understanding Autism’ and have most recently achieved my Level 3 SENCo certificate.
It’s incredibly important to continue to hone my skills and knowledge in these areas, especially in light of the pandemic – traumatic events can affect children’s mental health and, subsequently, their behaviour. Therefore, we must be equipped with strategies and support systems to ensure these external factors don’t affect their learning and development, and we’re there for both the child and their families.
- What advice would you give to parents and practitioners when communicating with children in relation to their behaviour?
It’s essential to not make children feel ‘bad’ for acting in a certain way, as the behaviour they display is a reaction to an external factor or emotion beyond their control. Young children are not born with the regulation skills to adequately manage and balance these strong emotions. This is where we need to communicate calmly and supportively, and allow them to feel their emotion, so we can gain a better understanding of it – and learn to manage it appropriately.
If we react or respond negatively – or with anger – to a tantrum or a strong reaction, this can translate into being something that’s ‘wrong’, which can affect self-esteem and wellbeing.
As parents and EY practitioners, our responses and reactions are key to supporting children’s behaviours positively, constructively, and efficiently.
- How important is communication in terms of a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive development?
For children who can’t communicate verbally, they must be provided with the opportunity to communicate in some way – whether through signing, pictures, PECS or gestures.
Every child should have a voice and for those who struggle with language, they may display some strong emotions because they feel misunderstood. It’s essential we find ways to help them express themselves in a way that’s relevant and appropriate to their individual needs.
- In relation to Covid-19, is it advised that parents and practitioners speak to children about the virus and what’s going on in the world?
This is a personal choice for parents to make based on knowledge of their child and whether it’s developmentally appropriate to share certain pieces of information. For some children, the concept of a virus – and the impact it has on the world – may be too much to comprehend, which could impact their emotions and behaviour significantly.
For older children, or those with a greater level of understanding, they could benefit from developmentally appropriate pieces of information – especially in relation to things affecting their lives such as not accessing childcare, seeing family and friends, and being unable to visit certain places. I always think parents are best placed to make these decisions because they know their child better than anyone.
- How can practitioners use language positively to help children make sense of their behaviour and what they’re feeling?
Ultimately, when children are experiencing strong feelings, we need to make them feel safe, secure, and understood. Labelling emotions can be incredibly powerful and play a part in allowing children to develop a deeper understanding of their reactions. For example, you could say:
‘Gosh, you must be feeling very angry to throw your shoes like that. I wonder what made you cross?’
Giving children the control of their emotions back to them – while also allowing time to think and process the events and their feelings – helps in knowing why they feel a certain way.
Additionally, it’s important to remember some EY children need space to experience their emotions, others may let out their frustrations being able to communicate effectively, while others might lie down and scream, kick or cry. We mustn’t prevent them from having these emotions or feelings but provide them the skills to understand their reactions. If they refuse our offer of physical reassurance and support too, we should respect this and wait.
For non-verbal children, it’s a good idea to narrate their situation as we would with a verbal child so they’re equipped with language and understanding of their emotions – this can go a long way towards making them feel heard.
- And finally, what strategies and solutions should practitioners and parents be providing with regards to children’s behaviour?
Every child is unique, therefore it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Having a number of strategies and resources goes a long way.
Books are incredible for allowing children to explore feelings in relation to situations that the characters are going through – and how they respond. Similarly, emotion flashcards, images and persona dolls all help them express themselves. Additionally, drawing and narrating a situation can be therapeutic, and help them to open up in a creative way.
I’d recommend providing a safe, cosy space – with cushions, blankets for hiding in, alongside some stress or fidget toys – to make children feel comfortable to process feelings and talk.
Coming back to the earlier point, every child will respond to strategies differently and we must find a way to suit the needs of each individual – and be mindful that even when something’s worked one day, it might not the next or for another emotion.
It’s vital we learn and adapt when supporting children on their personal journeys and provide them with the tools to manage and express their emotions and behaviours – and let them know that they’ll be supported throughout.
About the Author
Chloe is a board Trustee at Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) and an OFSTED registered childminder. Chloe has 8 years of experience post-qualifying, and came from a nursery background before becoming a home-based childcarer at Pebbles Childcare. Chloe is a successful writer, contributing to Nursery World, EYE, Nursery Management Today and ABC magazine, as well as managing the Pebbles Childcare Blog.
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