Helping children to manage their emotions in the early years is key to their wellbeing and development both in the present and in future years explains Sarah Emerson, our Montessori and Emotional Wellbeing for Parents and for Teachers trainer.
If you are engaged with the Montessori approach, you are probably already aware of the importance of the first six years of a child’s life and the sheer magnitude of brain development that takes place at this time.
We tend to take it for granted that children find it easiest to learn skills such as walking and talking in their early years, but we don’t always think about what they are learning when it comes to emotions. Yet, emotions are a hugely significant part of our life experience, and learning to handle and communicate about our feelings can be one of the most important life skills we ever learn.
Self-regulation, or the ability to manage our feelings in constructive and healthy ways, is associated with many positive outcomes throughout school and adult life. Children who are able to self-regulate are more likely to achieve academically and have positive social interactions. They are less likely to internalise their problems, show aggression, exhibit signs of depression, smoke or use alcohol and drugs. The effects even continue into adulthood, with children able to self-regulate being less likely to be unemployed, engage in criminal activity, smoke, take drugs, and even experience symptoms of physical illness.
In other words, if we support children in their early years to learn about their feelings and how to manage them, we are doing what we can to help them have improved outcomes in terms of their mental health, physical well-being and social relationships throughout their lifespan.
“We serve the future by protecting the present. The more fully the needs of one period are met, the greater will be the success of the next.”
This ability to self-regulate starts when children learn about feelings and how to manage them from the very beginning of life. As parents, we have a key role to play in how we support this. In Montessori we support children to be independent, resilient, community-minded, and to follow their own interests in learning. These are all valuable foundations for well-being in the future, and a focus on children’s emotional intelligence and well-being sits very well alongside the Montessori approach.
The events of the last few years have had a significant impact on children and families, and many of us are seeing this in our children’s ‘big feelings’. When children experience big emotions, we often see this come out through what we call ‘behaviour’. Many parents will relate to seeing plenty of heightened emotions in their children.
The good news is that there is something we can do to support children with this. We can learn about strategies such as co-regulation; we can learn how their brains work, and learn about the kind of responses to behaviour and emotions that will actively support their well-being now and in the future.
The early childhood years offer us a great opportunity to support our children with so many aspects of their development, and their emotional well-being is no exception to this.
Sarah Emerson is an AMI Montessori-trained early years and parent consultant and emotion and behaviour specialist. She is the trainer for Montessori and Emotional Wellbeing for Parents starting this September and Montessori and Emotional Wellbeing for Teachers starting in January 2024.