We want to protect our children, it’s natural and right. The difficulty is deciding between what they actually need protecting from and what they need to experience in order to grow and develop.
Learning to cope with emotions is a difficult and lifelong process for us all and it’s important not to shelter our children from them. We use the term ‘negative’ emotions but that gives the impression that they are bad and have no purpose. In fact they ALL have a purpose and vital role to play in our decision making throughout life and in keeping us safe; being able to recognise these emotions is harder than we might first believe.
Giving them practice is one of the ways we can help children to develop emotional literacy skills. Exploring emotions in a safe place is a perfect place to start, using role play with small world toys, puppets, stories and games all allow children opportunity to explore feelings of fear, sadness, frustration, joy, excitement, loss and anger.
An important part of children experiencing their emotions is through their friendships and socialising with other children. It’s important to not always ‘jump in’ to situations where a child is having a toy snatched or having a fall out with a friend for example. If we takeover the situation we are hijacking their chance to feel and develop their own coping strategies for the emotions they feel in these situations.
My son has never beaten me at draughts…yet! Some people have said that is cruel, I believe it’s important to let children lose. He has learnt over the years how to cope with that emotion and when he does finally beat me (which he will) the pride and elation he will feel will prove to him that resilience and perseverance pays off and give him a much bigger confidence injection than if he’d been having small, meaningless victories along the way; he’ll also be a very good draughts player!
When he finally beat my husband at table tennis 2 years ago the whole campsite in France knew about it, he was so happy and proud. He ended up winning 3 table tennis tournaments over the next few years because of the genuinely good player he had become. I mean, imagine if Jessica Ennis never lost against anybody when she was younger, what would she have had to strive for?
So as hard as it is sometimes try and sit back and let them feel, resist the temptation to step in straightaway. Support them by scaffolding their play to help them in their exploration, and model the language they need. Empathise with situations both real and imaginary and be there to listen.
Let them lose; it could help them to win.
'You have no choices about how you lose, but you do have a choice about how you come back and prepare to win again' Patrick Riley
Jennifer Wyman is founder of Bridge the Gap and an emotional education consultant and trainer. A qualified early years practitioner and mum of two with over 21 years experience within the early years sector.