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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.
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.
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.
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 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:
“I see that you are feeling sad because you have tears and a big frown on your face,”
“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
using co-regulation strategies such as:
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.
For 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:
“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,”
“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.
For 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.
For 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.
Use 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:
“You 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!”
Learning 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.
Guide problem-solving and regulation strategies that can apply to children’s lives. Ask questions such as:
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!