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Emotional Regulation


Emotions influence others; emotions motivate us, and emotions need to be validated.  The examples and skills and scenarios shared here are just but a few things.  One examples look like this: Dan doesn't want to play with Kay. Kay is hurt by this and thinks that everyone now hates her and starts to cry.


Action: Dan doesn’t want to play with Kay.

Reaction: Kay begins to cry.

Teacher’s response: give Kay validation of the feeling, then something to do about that feeling. I use the statement: I feel…..validate…. I can……


The first step helps the child to first recognize what they are feeling, the teacher/parent can validate (agree that feeling sad/mad/angry/disappointed is happening with them) and now give choices of what they can do about that feeling so that they respond in a rational way. Hence the I feel, validate, and I can skill. Usually at the Preschool level the children are dealing with the big swing in emotions—very black or white, big or small—not much in between.


Preschool visual supports for emotions:

  1. Teach children how to identify emotions (pictures of emotions)

  2. Teach children how to compare the emotion to what type of problem it is (elephant or mouse)

  3. Use visuals with “elephant” problems: cavities, house fires, car crash, being lost.

  4. Use visuals with mouse problems: sharing, no one to play with, spilling snack, or I miss my mommy.

  5. Show the four pictures and teach directly that these are elephant or mouse problems.

Teach the three option responses to the mouse problems:

  • Not sharing*: I feel sad that my friend won’t share, but I can go and ask someone else to share.

  • No one to play with: I feel angry and left out when my friends won’t play with me, but I can ask others to play, I can take a deep breath and walk away, or I can share my feelings with my friends. I can also play with them at the next recess.

  • Spilling a Snack: I feel embarrassed that I spilled my water/crackers/fruit/milk, but I can say, oops! Accidents happen, I’m sorry—I help you clean up, or We can fix it.

  • I miss my mommy: I feel scared/lonely/sad, but I can take a deep breath, look at my mommy’s picture, or hug my stuffed animals and remember that she is coming back.

****Sharing: there are 4 great ways to share:1) can I split what I am playing with so that more can play (think of play dough), 2) Can we take turns, 3) more to join the pretend play game, and 4) timed sessions with the item.


Remember that emotions motivate us to do something, let’s give them a replacement behavior to do so that we can better regulate those emotions.


School Age: Use the similar visual technique but now with older students. Instead of using an elephant or mousey problem, use a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 being the mouse problem and 5 being the elephant problem).


Teach them using the same visual idea but with time with each number representing a color and with words or faces to help them understand the scale. Teach the two or three option responses to the 1 to 2 scale problems:


  • Not sharing: I feel sad that my friend won’t share, but I can go and ask someone else.

  • No one to play with: I feel left out, but I don’t need to kick others or cry, I CAN ask someone else to play.

  • Change in the schedule: I feel that life is unpredictable because of this change, but I CAN take a breath, take a break, or get a drink

Again, remember that emotions are real, they motivate us to do things, they need to be validated, then the replacement skill needs to be given and the child feels empowered, and they feel more in control.

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