How to teach emotional intelligence to preschoolers
August 14, 2019 9:19 PM   Subscribe

What are the best resources for teaching preschoolers emotional intelligence and the other things that they're developmentally primed to learn? What are good resources and guides and tools here?

My son is three years old and just entered this interesting new imaginative, talkative phase. It's clear that we've moved beyond the things that I know how to teach (farm vocabulary EIEIO) and into a new phase about dealing with emotions, making up stories, negotiating, and interacting with friends.

I feel the way I do when I try to teach someone English. I'm a native speaker but have no idea how to teach it, and there are probably certain things I have always said wrong without realizing it.

He seems ready to eat this stuff up, so I'm sure I could be doing more. Example: I will often sportscast his emotions, e.g., "you seem frustrated." The other day I said I was frustrated, and he seemed momentarily fascinated and really tried to help with what was frustrating me. I'd never considered "I" statements and naming my own emotions as a good way to teach, obvious as that sounds now (mostly we just strive to have patience, so announcing that I felt frustrated didn't come naturally). So I have blind spots and could be doing more.

What are the best guides and tools for helping preschoolers learn to navigate their big feelings? I see posters about identifying feelings... is that helpful for pre-readers? Are there good books to read with him? Songs? (I do know we should be watching more Daniel Tiger as a source for those!) A collection of all this stuff on a blog? Are there books that explain to me "here are 6 areas of competency, and here are the building blocks for that, and here's how you can help your child?"

If any of those guides went beyond the emotion stuff, that'd be great. For instance, he has this whole imaginary life that revolves around superheroes. Is this about learning about power (super strength!) or right and wrong (good guys / bad guys) or what? And if that's a huge area of interest, what else should I be making available? If he's interested in good guys and bad guys, is now the time to start talking about real-world bravery like Ruby Bridges standing up against segregationists?

I apologize if this feels all over the place. Basically I'm trying to figure out what's going on with preschoolers' mental/psychological development and how to be helpful with it. Someone has probably put together a whole curriculum about this, no?

Thanks for any advice!
posted by slidell to Human Relations (12 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Why Mr. Rogers Is Having A Big Moment In Education (NPR)
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood focused on one audience: preschoolers. Rogers dedicated his entire career to the pre-K set. [...] His shows, books and songs were carefully designed to give kids the tools to deal with what he called "the inner drama of childhood" — from sibling rivalry to loneliness, anger and edgier topics like gender identity (as in the song "Everybody's Fancy").

"Fred Rogers pretty much invented [social and emotional learning] as a topic for a show," says Linda Simensky, the vice president of children's programming at PBS. A year ago, they debuted Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, an animated reboot of the Mister Rogers universe. The show is currently No. 1 with children under 3. It's streamed 50 million times a month, mostly on mobile devices, and has spawned several popular apps and games. Each episode uses a song to teach an explicit strategy for dealing with an emotion, including fear, anger and frustration. "The whole curriculum is based on Fred's research and teaching," Simensky says. Today, increasing evidence suggests that social and emotional skills, such as "grit" or persistence, are as important to success as academic achievement.
Mister Rogers' Emotional Neighborhood (Psychology Today)
What is Mister Rogers' enduring lesson? Both Wagner and Madigan stress the life-changing impact of simply acknowledging their feelings rather than trying to ignore them, reason them away, or solve them. [...]

Dr. Norman Rosenthal offers several ways to enhance our emotional intelligence, beginning with taking the time to sit with our feelings, without judgment. We can also work to build our feeling vocabulary so as to have more verbal resources with which to name our feelings, and to use our new vocabulary within the earshot of children to give them the tools with which to make more of their own feelings mentionable. [...]

As an adult, Fred Rogers still remembered the hurt of being told to pretend that the bullying he faced as a shy, overweight eight year old did not bother him. Amy Hollingsworth recounts in her book The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers that he "wanted someone to tell him it was okay to feel that way, it was okay to feel bad about what happened, and even to feel sad..."
posted by Little Dawn at 10:27 PM on August 14, 2019 [10 favorites]

For instance, he has this whole imaginary life that revolves around superheroes. Is this about learning about power (super strength!) or right and wrong (good guys / bad guys) or what?

According to this very detailed guide to Teaching Emotional Intelligence in Early Childhood (NAEYC), the feelings of the superheroes may be a wonderful learning opportunity:
Thinking through how characters feel and react helps children better prepare to deal with their own range of emotions and behaviors.
posted by Little Dawn at 10:35 PM on August 14, 2019

I find this book invaluable: How to talk so little kids will listen.
posted by atlantica at 11:35 PM on August 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have worked as a teacher, curriculum developer, and teacher trainer for this age group. There are many resources out there! If you are interested in reading curriculum, please memail regarding the HighScope Social and Emotional learning curriculum. This book doesn't have lessons, but is a guide to social and emotional development of children ~3-7. Along with sample situations, the author describes how to scaffold (support) and extend learning.
posted by maya at 11:46 PM on August 14, 2019

I recommend Mind in the Making. Each chapter includes games/activities you can play with your child.
posted by CMcG at 3:05 AM on August 15, 2019

Great question! As the father of two and a half year old boy-girl twins, we're in similar territory. Actually, just the other day, I told my kids I was frustrated because it was time for them to get dressed for school and they kept refusing. When I said I was frustrated, my son got up from what he was doing, came over to where I was sitting on the floor a few feet away, gave me a hug, and then let me help him get dressed. I was pretty amazed. Of course, when the same situation played out the next day, I tried the same thing and both of them just laughed at me when I said I was frustrated. Still, I think that showing them that we deal with difficult emotions too is really helpful because it lets them see us struggle with things that they also struggle with.

I've found The Whole Brain Child really helpful, as well as some of Siegel's other books like No Drama Discipline and Parenting from the Inside Out.

Janet Lansbury also uses similar approaches in her books and podcast.

Thanks to everyone else who has posted recommendations. I'm looking forward to checking them out!
posted by 6and12 at 3:25 AM on August 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I recommend the work of Mary Gordon and her Roots of Empathy programme .
posted by Ashwagandha at 6:29 AM on August 15, 2019

I got this link in my email a couple of days ago and looked at it this morning. The printables might help with labeling emotions, which is what I work on with the 3 year olds (when I see them, I've been floating among classrooms for a while now).

I do have a folder of stuff saved because I did an emotions unit last year with the 5 year olds. I'll try to post links later, but no promises. I'm crazy busy at work and we're remodeling the house.
posted by kathrynm at 8:14 AM on August 15, 2019

Generation Mindful has a bunch of tools, posters, kids, and exercises to do just this!
posted by amoeba at 10:24 AM on August 15, 2019

My four year old and I are really loving the books Jayneen Sanders has written about feelings and empathy.
posted by makonan at 5:26 PM on August 15, 2019

Steven Universe.
posted by signal at 8:35 PM on August 15, 2019

Thanks, everyone! These are all great answers, and I look forward to checking them all out more closely. I had to mark as best answer a few that immediately made me say "yes! this was exactly what I was looking for!" but there seems to be a lot of great ideas here!

(And amoeba, seeing the Generation Mindful stuff on facebook was actually what prompted me to ask this question. I'm curious if it was useful, if you feel like sharing. I feel like it might be a bit old for my kid currently.)

Thanks again!
posted by slidell at 1:23 AM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

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