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It’s a month into the new school year and children are still adjusting to their new classroom, new teachers, and new routines. A child, Chloe, arrives at school already in the midst of a tantrum. Chloe’s mom looks frustrated and is raising her voice. What do you do?
While this situation is all too common in early childhood classrooms every day, this year has increased everything in size and scope - especially children’s emotions and our own. We may already be a month into the school year, but settling into new routines and finding out what works best for each child and their family can realistically take months to establish. As educators, it can be challenging to manage children’s heightened emotions around saying goodbye to their family members each morning and starting a new routine in a new space with new people, while also navigating parents’ understandable anxiety about leaving their children and their concerns about their children’s social-emotional skills and well-being. There is a lot going on that requires your attention in the classroom, and you need the help of the other important adults in each child’s world - their family.
Making a connection with families and establishing school-home communication is key for helping children, teachers, and parents stay on the same page and build the bridge between home and school in order to best support all children. So, where do we begin? How do we help parents talk to their children about emotions, and more importantly, how do we help children feel ready to do the same?
All you need to do is start a conversation.
Simply giving context to children’s feelings through intentional conversation starters can relieve a great deal of stress and anxiety, while also modeling helpful communication strategies for parents. Just like any of us, it can be challenging for children to communicate their thoughts and feelings when in the heightened emotional experience. Oftentimes, children may just need a little support in identifying what they are feeling, and parents may need our help with initiating these conversations.
Conversation starters can be used by both teachers and parents at any time - whether it be the first week of school, months into the school year, during difficult drop-offs or transitions, or at moments when emotions are strong. Knowing how to start these conversations can help ease the transition into school, build trusting relationships between children, teachers, and parents, and help children begin to express how they are feeling and understand the reasons behind their feelings.
Here are some everyday begin to ECSEL conversation starters and tips that we like to use in our classrooms and share with parents to help children ease into the day, or navigate any part of the day when heightened emotions arise:
We also use begin to ECSEL tools such as Our Emotions Board and Our Emotions cards, which bring a visual element to enhance conversations and give children agency over their feelings. Here are some ECSEL conversation starters that you can pair with ECSEL tools to help children with their big feelings at any point during the day:
Finding ways to have consistent and open communication between teachers, children, and their families will begin to create an environment of learning, growth, and validation for everyone involved. Being able to have these important conversations can ensure that children are receiving consistent language and messaging about how to identify, understand, express, and manage their feelings and build the important toolkit that they will carry with them, even after their preschool drop-off days are behind them.
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