There are many reasons a young child becomes upset while at preschool. For example, they may miss their parents, become frightened or injured, have a disagreement with a friend, or feel sick, tired, or overstimulated.
A gentle touch, verbal reassurance, and your presence are sometimes all that is needed to soothe a child when they’re upset. However, when that doesn’t work, there are some additional tricks and tools you can use to help soothe an upset child.
Discover What’s Wrong
The first step in helping a child is discovering the cause of them being upset. If you observe what happened, such as a fall on the playground or a disagreement with a friend, you already know why they’re feeling stressed. However, if a child is crying or upset with no known visible cause, you will have to do a bit of investigating.
The best course of action is to ask the child what happened. This way, you leave the answer open without planting ideas in their head. Children want to please, so if you say things like, “Are you hurt?” or “Are you sad?” they are likely to say yes because they think that’s what you want to hear.
If a child is hurt or sick, you can ask them to show or tell you where it hurts, do a visual check for any signs of injury, and take their temperature if you suspect a fever.
Validate Their Feelings
It is vital to validate a young child’s feelings. So often, to adults, a child’s big emotions seem irrational or over the top, but to a young child, their feelings are genuine and often overwhelming. So while a teacher’s job involves helping children learn how to process big emotions, you must also show them their feelings, however big, are valid.
Simple statements like “You’re very angry right now” or “It’s ok to feel sad” help a child understand what they’re feeling and that their feelings are ok.
Read A Story
Stories have calming powers and can help children understand or process big emotions. Teachers should include books about families, friendships, emotions, and various social stories on the classroom bookshelf and in the quiet and cozy area.
Provide A Quiet & Calm Spot
Preschool classrooms are busy places, so teachers should create a cozy and quiet corner where children can go to relax when overstimulated or go to calm down when upset. The area should include a soft spot to sit, like oversized cushions, stuffed animals, and books. A unique touch is to include a class book created using photos of the children’s families.
Music is scientifically proven to elevate one’s mood and can calm us when emotionally upset. Of course, calming music in the classroom while children are playing is always a good idea, but it is also beneficial when children are upset or over-excited. Likewise, dancing can help children act out strong emotions through action.
Provide Sensory Toys
Little hands sometimes need to interact with sensory stimulating toys to help calm nerves or upset feelings. Fidgets like squishy balls, bendy tubes, fidget spinners, texturized items, pop-its, and liquid timers appeal to children and have a calming effect. Keep a bucket of sensory toys in the classroom to pass out as needed.
Physical activity is another way to calm emotions. Yoga, dancing, and playing outside are beneficial when little emotions run strong. Yoga is excellent at calming down children; dancing and aerobic activity boost endorphins and uplift a child’s mood.