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Emotion coaching for young children in a Covid-19 world

date April 6, 2021Tamsin Grimmer
In this blog, early years consultant Tamsin Grimmer explores the impact of Covid-19 and lockdown on young children’s emotions and behaviour and what we can do to support them…

The world has been on an emotional rollercoaster over the past year and it goes without saying that it has had a massive impact on all of us. There have been days when I’ve been as strong as an ox and days when I have felt like crying into my cornflakes!  My emotions have been difficult to keep in check so how much harder must it be for our young children, who are still learning how to deal with these big emotions on a day-to-day basis.

Different experiences

Children will have responded differently to the pandemic and will have different lived experiences. One child may have been in a bubble with some extended family members whilst another may have been isolated with only one parent and no siblings. Several children will have had access to gardens while many children will not have had any access and for them, lockdown could have felt like a prison.

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Different reactions

Children’s behaviour may also have regressed after this time away from our settings, and we may find they begin wetting themselves again, thumb sucking or becoming excessively clingy to a carer.  We must ensure that we offer understanding, reassurance and security at this time and do not chastise these behaviours. They will pass with time as the child begins to feel more safe and secure. In addition, children may have experienced a sense of loss, they may be in families who have been bereaved, or are simply feeling unsettled with the changes in our settings and social lives during Covid-19.

Upset toddler

Different levels of resilience

The good news is that many children have coped really well during lockdown – and that’s great news! They have been bounding into our settings as if they have never been away. We know that children are resilient and bounce back after difficulties fairly easily so it would make sense that lots of our children have settled back in really well.  However, we must make sure we don’t assume that all children are OK and that all children will settle in easily. There are several groups of children who will find it more difficult – I’ve outlined three here but you can probably think of more:

  1. ‘Swan’ children – on the surface they look like they’re OK or calm even – but underneath they have very high anxiety.
  2. ‘Coped well’ children – they appeared to cope in the short term, enjoying their return to their school or setting. However, in the longer term, we may see the impact of this difficult time on them as it manifests itself in stress, anxiety, behaviour issues or emotional needs.
  3. ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ children – they manage to hold it together in the setting and you could be forgiven for thinking that they are fine, but they let it all out at home and are completely different children. I have one of these myself – she appears articulate and engaged in school, but the second she is home – when she feels safe enough to truly be herself – her anxiety comes out. So at home we see emotional and behaviour problems all rooted in anxiety, whilst school see a bright, compliant girl.

The role of emotion coaching

We also need to be aware that young children may not yet know how to fully express their emotions or they may not do so in a way that some adults would deem appropriate or acceptable. Emotion coaching is a great approach we can use which supports children to better understand their emotions and work out how to respond. The key belief that underpins this way of working is that all emotions are acceptable, but sometimes the way we respond when we feel that emotion may not be. So if a child is feeling very upset because their friend took their toy – we would explain that it’s OK to feel cross and upset but it’s not OK to hit your friend because you feel upset or cross.

dad playing with toddler

Tips for supporting emotions and behaviour in early years

Here are some practical ways that you can support your children at the moment:

  • Create a positive setting culture and foster inclusive attitudes so that all children feel like they belong.
  • Provide a routine that supports children to interact socially and check in with children’s emotions daily.
  • Offer plenty of opportunities for movement and active learning with supportive and sensitive adults.
  • Provide an emotionally literate environment.
  • Use emotion coaching strategies and the problem-solving approach to resolve conflict.
  • Promote calming strategies and offer children time and space to relax and calm down.
  • Have a loving pedagogy and ethos.

I will explore these and other ideas in my forthcoming webinar for Kinderly Learn. Adults who work with young children make a big difference to their lives.  The way we role-model emotional resilience will have a large impact on how they recover from experiencing the pandemic. So quite frankly – emotions matter!

tamsin grimmer kinderly collaborator

About the author

Tamsin Grimmer is an experienced early years consultant and trainer, the early years director of Linden Learning and a part-time lecturer at Bath Spa University. Tamsin is passionate about young children’s learning and development and has a keen interest in the different ways that children learn. Tamsin is particularly interested in play, active learning, promoting positive behaviour and supporting early language development. She has written four books: “Calling All Superheroes”, “School Readiness and the Characteristics of Effective Learning”. “Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour” and “Developing a Loving Pedagogy”. 

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