By Zac Price
Director, Meyerhoff Early Childhood Education Center
Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore
Think about a time when you were extremely mad, where steam was coming out of your ears, where your blood boiled. How well do you work on problems when you are this angry?
Not very well? I know when I’m like that, I can barely speak much less solve a problem.
With this in mind, let’s unpack the learning that is going on with the labeling of children’s feelings. Often we have to give the children the words for their emotions. By labeling what is going on, we can help the children understand their feelings. Only by understanding these feelings can someone work through them or get help working through them.
First, the children are asked to connect their emotion to language, not an easy thing to do. As the children get slightly older, we start to ask them to recognize the feelings of the other children who are having problems. We use words like, ‘Look at his/her face. What do you think they are feeling?’
As they get older we continue building onto the labeling with phrases such as ‘They do look sad/angry/frustrated/upset. How do you feel when you are sad/angry/frustrated/upset? What can we do to help them?’ We are trying to get youngsters to take the perspective of a peer or other individual, the beginning stages of feeling empathy.
Understanding another’s point of view is extremely difficult for young children because in their perception of the world, everyone thinks like them. The “terrible twos” are children not understanding why they can’t have what they want. They don’t understand that you have a different perspective on why they can’t have that toy right then.
This difficulty with different points of view is why phrases like ‘you’re not my friend’ are so hurtful to children. They don’t understand why someone doesn’t want to be their friend when they still want to play with them. (Note: Children understand a friend as the person they want to play with most. The idea of multiple friends is not an easy thing for them and does not fit their logic structure.)
Children are going to be part of a society where they must be able to work with other people. Start them on the right round early on and teach them that if we are constantly only thinking about ourselves and how we feel, then no one will want to work with us. Whether it’s in the workplace or on the playground, a little empathy can go a long way.