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A begin to ECSEL School Story— Part 1: Dealing with Disappointment

January 12, 2024

Introduction: Challenges in Early Childhood Education 

Early childhood is foundational to one’s development. These years shape the people that children will become – our future generation. Early childhood educators and leaders have one of the most important yet difficult jobs. They are tasked with meeting the unique needs of each individual child, guiding children on the best path forward, and setting children up for success emotionally, cognitively, and socially.  

Emotional, Cognitive, and Social Challenges in Early Childhood 

Challenges Children are Facing
But the current challenges that both children and educators face are just that – emotional, cognitive, and social.

Emotionally, children are showing more dysregulated behaviors than ever before.

Cognitively, children are unable to perform what were previously considered to be developmentally appropriate tasks.

Socially, children are having difficulty engaging with peers, hearing the perspectives of others, and demonstrating empathy.

What has always been a difficult job now feels near impossible for many early childhood educators, who are ill-equipped to deal with all that children are going through.  

Importance of Educator Training and Support 

Our current landscape has made one thing crystal clear. We need to change how we are supporting children, and in order to do so, we need to change how we are supporting the educators who care for them. Educator training has always been an important piece in the field of early childhood education, but now it is essential.

Children’s optimal development takes place within the context of responsive relationships with trusted adults – parents, guardians, and teachers - that help children make sense of their world. These are the relationships that we need to invest in. Not just for children’s mental health, well-being, and emotional, cognitive, and social success, but for educators and leaders alike.  

Begin to ECSEL Educator Training Program Overview 

Watch the video to learn more about what Claire McNally (VP of Programs, Ellis Early Learning) has to say about how begin to ECSEL has been impacting Ellis.

Begin to ECSEL Educator Training Program does just that. Emotional, Cognitive, and Social Early Learning (ECSEL) is a prevention and intervention relational model informed by studies in neuroscience, child development, and early education. The outcomes of the ECSEL approach have been proven and verified by three peer-reviewed studies, showing significant increases in children’s emotion regulation, attachment relationships, empathy, and access to executive function skills necessary to learning. 

The begin to ECSEL Training Program addresses the mental health and emotional intelligence of educators first so they can model for and guide children’s development of these same skills. It teaches educators and leaders to use emotional situations as opportunities for children to learn regulation strategies from birth, using language, strategies, and tools designed to promote what we refer to as the four building blocks of emotional intelligence – the ability to effectively identify, understand, express, and regulate emotions both in and out of the heat-of-the-moment.

Like any profession, support is important to job satisfaction and our ability to reflect, brainstorm, and grow, but also to deal with challenges, stress, and burnout. This support is necessary for early childhood educators and leaders, which is why we’ve incorporated mentorship, coaching, and Reflective Practice (adapted from Reflective Supervision) into the begin to ECSEL Training Program – to make sure that those who are doing the work can actually do the work.

My Journey with ECSEL 

My journey with ECSEL began 8 years ago as a preschool teacher where I underwent years of training from Housman Institute’s founder, Dr. Donna Housman. To say it changed the way that I navigated my personal and professional lives is an understatement. It made a tremendous impact on my understanding of children’s developmental milestones,  teaching practices, communication with others, relationships, and ability to effectively manage my own emotions and reactions. As the current Manager of Professional Development and begin to ECSEL Training Program coach, it has been inspiring to see the impact reach more early childhood communities, educators, and leaders, reaching more children and families as a result.  

Partnership with Ellis Early Learning 

One of these communities is Ellis Early Learning, who we partnered with as our lab school in 2022 to place emotional intelligence at the heart of the community with the begin to ECSEL Educator Training Program. Like all early learning communities, Ellis Early Learning centers have faced challenging behaviors and classroom dynamics. As the head coach, I have the pleasure of working directly with Ellis leaders, mentors, and teachers, and have seen all of their incredible work firsthand.  

Introduction to the 5-Part Blog Series

In this 5-part blog series, we will share some of our begin to ECSEL coaching stories with Ellis Early Learning, explore 5 challenging experiences that fellow coach, Lauren Orf, has observed in Ellis classrooms, and provide ECSEL language, strategies, tools, and coaching to support these moments.  

Dealing with Disappointment 

Video Transcript: While seated at a table during choice time, one child wanted to use a block that their friend was playing with. The teacher told her that she can use it when her friend is done, causing a meltdown. She couldn’t deal with the disappointment of not having the block when she wanted it. The teacher tried to offer her other pieces to use in the meantime, but they were quickly thrown to the floor and all other options were met with, “no!” The teacher tried to validate the child’s feelings, but the child was stuck and a hug only helped temporarily. ECSEL coach, Lauren, used this as an opportunity to model appropriate language by saying, “I know it’s hard to wait and it’s disappointing when we don’t get to play with what we want right away. Maybe we can set a timer so we know when it’s our turn.”  

Teaching Coping Strategies in the Heat-of-the-Moment 

Teaching children how to cope with big feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, and disappointment is no small feat, especially now. More often than not, we are seeing children having difficulty with sharing, turn-taking, and understanding the feelings of others. In the begin to ECSEL Training Program, we explore Causal Talk (CT), which refers to conversations between adults and children about emotions, and Causal Talk in the Emotional Experience (CTEE), which refers to responsive interactions in the heat-of-the-moment.  

In this situation, teachers can use the heat-of-the-moment as a learning opportunity for children using CTEE strategies: 


Verbalize what behaviors you are seeing from the child using language such as:

Verbalize what behaviors you see“I see that you are feeling sad because you have tears and a big frown on your face,”

or,

“Oh no, I can see that you are throwing toys on the floor. Are you feeling sad and disappointed?”  


Guide the child to a safe, calm space in the classroom and help them calm down using co-regulation strategies

Guide the child to the safe calm spaceusing co-regulation strategies such as:

  • taking deep breaths together,
  • using a calm and soothing voice,
  • physical contact if desired by the child,
  • or finding a regulation tool like a sensory bottle.

Children (and even adults) will not be able to talk about their feelings, what happened, or find a solution if they are in the midst of a meltdown. Once the child is calm, you can begin to talk about the problem. 


Talk about the problem empathetically using language that shows understanding.

Talk empatheticallyFor example, “I hear your words and I understand that you are feeling sad and disappointed because you want to play with the block that your friend is using. It can be hard to wait for a turn when we really, really want something.”  

 


Connect the pieces between the cause of the problem, feelings, and related behaviors. Help the child understand that their feelings are valid, but their behaviors are not effective using language such as:

Connect the cause of the problem, feelings, and related behaviors “I know it’s hard to wait and it’s disappointing when we don’t get to play with something we want right away, but I can’t understand you when you cry, yell, and throw toys,”

or,

“It’s okay to feel sad and disappointed, but would you want to give a friend a turn if they are crying, yelling, and throwing toys? No.” 


When closing the door to an inappropriate behavior, always open the door to an appropriate one.

Open the door to an appropriate behaviorFor example, “What could you do instead of crying, yelling, and throwing toys? If you use your words then I can understand and help you. Can you try using your words to tell me what you want? Thank you for using your words!” 

 


Work with the child to find a solution.

Find a solution togetherFor example, “I understand now that you want to play with the block, but your friend is using it right now. You will get a turn too. Let’s try asking your friend together if you can set a timer to have a turn with the block.” Afterwards, give the child simple choices to give them a sense of agency and control, “Great job, your friend said yes! Do you want to set a sand timer or a timer on my phone?”  


Follow-through to make sure that the problem actually gets solved.

 Follow through to make sure that the problem actually gets solvedUse language such as, “I see that the timer is up and it’s your turn. Let’s remind your friend together using kind words.”  

 

 

 


Provide validation and encouragement using language such as:

Provide validation and encouragementYou did such a great job of calming down, using your words, and solving the problem. When you used calm words and were able to find a solution, you got a turn with the block!”  

 

 


Teaching Coping Strategies in Regulated Moments

Llama Llama Time to ShareLearning to share, take turns, understand the feelings and needs of others, and deal with disappointment is a challenge that so many children experience.

Teachers can also use CT during regulated moments to explore these challenges, provide meaning, and brainstorm regulation strategies and solutions as a class. For example, find a book about sharing, such as LLama Llama Time to Share by Anna Dewdney. Actively engage in using storybooks as a tool to start conversations and brainstorm together. 

🖨️ Download the printable Sharing Kit.


While reading, ask questions about the story such as:
 

  • What happened? What is Llama having a hard time doing? 
  • What does Llama feel? What about Nelly Gnu? 
  • What did Llama realize when he shared with Nelly Gnu? What did they feel afterwards? 

 


Connect what the characters are going through to children’s personal experiences. State observations and ask questions such as: 
 

  • I noticed that we are having a hard time sharing and taking turns 
  • Can you remember a time where you really wanted to play with a toy that your friend was using? 
  • What did that make you feel? What did you do? Did you cry? Yell? Throw toys on the ground? Take the toy from your friend? What do you think that made your friend feel? 
  • What could you do instead of crying, yelling, throwing toys, or taking the toy away?  

 

Guide problem-solving and regulation strategies that can apply to children’s lives. Ask questions such as:  

  • How did Llama and Nelly Gnu solve the problem in the story?  
  • What could you do to solve the problem?  
  • What could you do if you are playing with a toy and a friend asks for a turn? What would be a kind thing to do? Could you play with the toy together or let them know that you will give them a turn when you’re all done? 

 


Conclusion and Preview of Upcoming Series 

As a fellow educator, I understand that when heightened emotions and dysregulation arise, the solutions and strategies are never one-size-fits-all, and it may take time and consistency for these strategies to work. As a coach who supports educators and school leaders through challenging situations like these, I know the value and impactful outcomes that consistently using ECSEL language, strategies, and techniques like these can have. Follow along with us throughout this five-part series as we explore, unpack, and create action plans to address commonly-experienced challenges in early-education settings, and remember – as educators and school leaders, your emotional well-being matters, and prioritizing it can help you to best help the children in your care. 

 Stay tuned for the entire series! 

  • Part 1: Dealing with Disappointment 
  • Part 2: Redirecting vs. Understanding Unkind Behaviors 
  • Part 3: Turning Exclusion into Empathy 
  • Part 4: Effectively Communicating Our Own Feelings to Children 
  • Part 5: Navigating Co-Teaching Team Dynamics 

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