Why Everyone Needs a Social-Emotional Toolbox

Why Everyone Needs a Social-Emotional Toolbox

Those of us who work in Early Childhood Education spend a great deal of time teaching children to regulate their seemingly never-ending range of emotions. We have all learned and implemented countless ways to help children with their big feelings. While it is extremely important to ensure that they have a full social-emotional toolbox at their disposal, it is equally as important to ensure that we also have one.

Why? Children feed off of our energy. If we can change ours, we can change the room, the world, or at least the little person in front of us!
When we feel off or stressed, we manage it – we think. What really happens is we internalize it, but our students innately sense our emotions, and their behavior will likely reflect that.

  • We are stressed or tired – children go into fight or flight mode, and their behavior can become more aggressive, or they may just completely tune us out.
  • We are anxious – they may become more clingy and teary or have a harder time separating from us.
  • We are sad – they get very worried and anxious or will likely mirror our emotions and be sad.
  • The same goes for when we are feeling great! Our positive energy is sure to be contagious.

The message is clear – we need to take care of ourselves – we can control our environment when we learn how to manage our energy.

COVID has taken a toll on all of us these last few years. Teachers are going back into another year tired, recovering, and quite frankly energetically drained.  And the new teachers? Anxious for what they are facing and underprepared for the adventure ahead.  

Now more than ever, we all need an arsenal of “tricks” up our sleeves – mostly for ourselves!  

We teach Social-Emotional development to young children.  But for most of us, it stops with helping them calm down or build their language skills to “use their words” or label their feelings.  As adults, we are already there – we can use our words (even if they are loud!), and we can label our feelings – for the most part.  

We can all say we are stressed, we know what anxiety feels like, and anger – well, that bubbles right up to the surface easily.  But how do we regulate our emotions?  What are the tools you rely on?

We tell children to take a deep breath to help them to stop crying – my suggestion is to make breathwork the first tool in your toolbox. Incorporate this into your day and your classroom routine.

Stop and take 3 long deep breaths during the morning routine to reset… yourself and the children. At circle time, incorporate different breathwork techniques, teaching and practicing them together so children can become comfortable in just using the method in tough moments instead of having to learn it as they are struggling to focus.

Here are two of my go-to breathwork ideas for your classroom and, most importantly, yourself to start your toolbox today!

Long Deep Breaths – “Smell the Flower – Blow out the candle” is how we teach children to breathe in deep through their noses and blow out through their mouths. I try to get them to do this 3 times – it helps calm the body quickly. This, once taught, is quick and easy to use no matter what is going on. I like to stop the room during the day when we get too noisy, the kids are on edge, or our energy is way too high. I have them freeze in place and “Smell the flowers.” This helps keep the class (and me) in a good mood during the day!

Box Breathing – my favorite! To the count of 4, you breathe in. Hold your breath to the count of 4, Breathe out to the count of 4, and hold to a count of 4 to complete the box. For children, the last hold is hard. This has the same effect on your nervous system if you exclude the last hold. Repeating this 3 times calms the body, reduces stress, turns off your fight or flight mode, and makes you feel safe and relaxed. Remember to do this for yourself daily!

This is a great start to your self-care, but there are many other ideas we can add for you to manage your new school year! Look for Part 2, where we will discuss adding tools to your new social-emotional toolbox!  And in the meantime, BREATHE!

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