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Stressful, busy, volatile, chaotic, uncertain are all terms we as adults use to characterize the fast-moving world we inhabit.

But the world of a child is different – often full of laughter, mischief, joy and play.

This stark contrast between the adult world and the child’s world often forces us to question the impact that stressed-out adults can have on children. And, what can we, as educators and caregivers, do to mitigate the impact?

Happy Adults = Happy Children

There is no doubt that happy children grow up to be happy adults but in order to provide a happy childhood, the adult caregivers – be it parents, teachers, and support staff need to manage their own stress levels and make it a priority.

Emotions play a huge role in our ability to learn and thrive. What is more, emotions are contagious! Children absorb the feelings they experience around them.

The traditional belief in education has been that the teacher has to teach and the student has to learn – it does not matter how either one of them is feeling. Emotions have no place in the classroom.

Most of us adults are products of that education system. However, recent research in neuroscience and education is making it clear that emotions and learning are deeply interconnected. Cognitive learning is impossible without the guard rails of emotional well-being and active engagement and is in fact hampered due to stress.

Neuroscientists have now discovered neurons that are associated with empathetic, social and imitation behaviour. These brain cells activate when we see someone doing something or acting in a particular way. They are the reason that we can pick up on other people’s feelings and stress without even being aware of it.

As such, it is important that we learn to understand our emotions. It is only when parents know and understand their own emotions that they are able to speak the language of emotions in their home and take the first step towards emotional regulation with children.

The ability to recognize, identify and manage emotions is termed as Emotional Intelligence and is said to be the key to happiness and foundation for managing relationships. If Emotional Intelligence is not your strength, don’t worry, you can still develop your EQ through practice.

Here are some questions to ask yourself

Self-awareness:

Can I easily recognize how I am feeling and do I appropriately share these feelings with those around me where necessary?

Emotional Regulation:

Can I deal with difficult feelings even though they are unpleasant at the time and keep going in a social situation? When I am caught off guard, do I say something I regret later or am I able to hold back? Do I process how I manage my emotions for future reference or action?

Understanding:

Can I see the whole picture and keep perspective? Do I understand why others behave in a certain way?

Some tips for supporting children in developing their emotional regulation and awareness

Listening/Connecting:

The power of being heard is immense, sometimes this is all that a child needs to bring anxiety right down.

Labeling Feelings:

“You are sad because mummy has left.” Introduce the language of emotions in a natural context.

Validating Feelings With Statements:

“I can see you are cross because Arjun took your car.”

Empathising:

Showing empathy is not always easy in a busy setting but it is important. Try showing an understanding of what the child is feeling before offering solutions. By being present you can help the child to feel safe and secure.

There are great resources too such as Zones of Regulation (Kuypers 2011) – these are colour coded zones that cover different emotions. Often children relate more easily to the colour than the more complex emotions vocabulary. Of course the first step to be aware of these emotions and recognise them in ourselves. So here are the Zones!

The Blue Zone: For example, sad, sick, tired, bored, moving slowly

The Green Zone: For example, happy, calm, feeling okay, focussed, ready to learn

The Yellow Zone: For example, frustrated, worried, silly/wiggly, excited, loss of some control

The Red Zone: For example mad/angry, terrified, yelling/hitting, elated, out of control

Once you identify the zone you are in, the next step is to identify the tools to help you or your child move back to Green. Each person will have different tools but here are some.

Blue Zone tools: Do some exercise, have a sleep, drink some cold water, have a bite to eat, get some fresh air, grab a coffee

Green Zone tools: Keep focused!

Yellow Zone tools: Take time out, meditation, do a favourite activity, listen to calming music, talk to a friend

Red Zone tools: Move away, find a trusted friend to help

All of us cannot be happy and pleasant all the time. But we can address our emotions and stress and understand that these emotions are contagious.

We can impact our homes and work places with joy, laughter and fun!

Happiness is more contagious than other emotions.

Jackie Harland

Jackie is an experienced speech and language therapist with a Masters in early childhood education. She has set up centres and early years provisions in London, Dubai, Lahore and now the London Learning Centre in Delhi in conjunction with Pooja Talwar.

Jackie is passionate to see children with additional needs receive the best evidenced based support at an early age and go on to achieve their ambitions in life.