Children are constantly learning and absorbing everything around them. As they grow, they learn to use and manipulate language, they become better at using their fine motor skills, and develop keen audio and visual skills. In all these areas we help them by reading books, telling stories and pointing out things they may not have noticed. One area that sometimes gets neglected is emotional development. Oh yes, we know about the tantrums, the screaming, stamping of feet, the bursting into tears for no apparent reason. How can we help our little three, four or five year old understand what these emotions are, and how do we explain how to handle them?
My son started kindergarten this year and with it we have had a rollercoaster of emotions: the nervous first day, the excitement of the sports festival, the upset of rejection by friends. So we worked through this exercise together; I set aside a couple of hours so we wouldn’t have to rush it.
One point I must stress during this exercise is to not make any suggestions of colour to your child. As adults we are conditioned by the media and society into thinking that red is an angry colour, yellow is happy, green is peaceful and so on, but your child may not have been subjected to this way of thinking yet. Let him or her choose her own colours; I think you will be surprised at the results.
Paints/crayons/pens; whatever your child prefers but a good range of colours
Begin by asking how your child feels right now. Tell them how you feel and that you are going to be talking about feelings and emotions. Then pick one of the emotions on the first page that you know your child is familiar with. You want to open up a dialogue, but this might be difficult for some of the emotions that your child doesn’t recognize.
These are a few of the questions I used as an example, but adapt them to fit the child. I chose an incident when my son’s friend beat him at chess but his friend had been cheating and Ebi-kun lost his temper.
How did you feel when you played chess with B-kun?
How did you feel when B-kun won?
Why did you feel like that?
Can you show me an angry face?
Ebi-kun showing his angry face:
What other things make you angry?
If angry was a colour, what colour would it be?
Can you colour this circle in that colour?
Chances are your child won’t know what all the emotions mean, in that case give them an example but make it relevant to their life.
Do you remember how you felt when…
Why did you feel like that?
Was it a good or bad feeling?
Some children may not be able to put into words how they feel, and some will surprise you with their choice of colours. If you can’t do this as a one-on-one exercise then create a screen so that the children cannot see each other’s work. My son used pale blue for happy. When I asked him why he said it reminded him of his best friend who wears a T-shirt that colour.
As an extension to this exercise, give the completed sheet to the child and ask them to explain it to Daddy, Grandma or a friend. By explaining the information to someone else they will gain a deeper understanding. It is also a good exercise to help a child understand the consequences of their actions. Introduce the concept of how they make other people feel: how does your sister feel if you take her toy away, how does your friend feel if you exclude them from the game, how does mama feel when you give her a big hug and kiss? Take your time with this; use it as a moment to connect and to better understand what your little person is going through.
Jo is a British ex-pat living in Japan and a Montessori mama to Ebi-kun. She designs and sells sewing patterns, handmade goods and Japanese fabric in her Etsy Store and blogs at A Bit Of This and A Bit Of That . In her spare time she runs The Montessori Goldmine, which is a collective of Montessori blogs from around the globe.