As parents, caregivers, and educators, we play a vital role in helping young children understand and navigate their emotions. We strive to provide them with love, care, and a nurturing environment to help them grow into happy and healthy individuals. In an effort to support their physical development, we must not overlook the importance of nurturing their mental health as well.
Mental health is just as vital as physical health, and it begins early in life. By promoting positive mental health practices from a young age, we equip our children with the tools they need to navigate life's challenges, build resilience, and flourish emotionally.
"Empowering children with positive mental health practices is like giving them wings to soar through life's challenges,” Renata Turner, Step Forward Head Start’s Early Inclusion Coordinator, said. “By doing so, we foster resilience and nurture their inner light to shine brightly.”
First, Turner said it is imperative that parents, caregivers and educators foster emotional intelligence in children. They can do so in a number of ways.
“Playtime is more than just fun,” Turner advocated. “It’s a powerful tool for emotional development. It gives them a safe space to explore and understand different feelings. You can also teach your child the language of emotions by naming them together. So, when they experience an emotion, ask them to identify and label it. By doing so, they will gradually gain the vocabulary to express themselves better and understand the emotions of others.”
Storytelling and reading can also engage children in emotional exploration. Families can read books that highlight various emotions and discuss them afterward. Children who relate characters’ feelings to their own experiences can foster empathy and emotional comprehension.
Other ways families can help teach emotional intelligence include:
Mindfulness and Breathing
Introduce simple mindfulness exercises and deep breathing techniques to help children calm their minds and bodies. Teaching them to pause and breathe during moments of intense emotions empowers them to react more thoughtfully and manage their feelings effectively.
Validate and Empathize
When children share their emotions, it's crucial to validate their experiences and empathize with them. Let them know that their feelings are valid, and it's okay to feel the way they do. This creates a supportive environment where they feel safe to express themselves openly.
Children are keen observers, so let's be mindful of our own emotional expressions. Show them healthy ways to cope with emotions by modeling positive behavior, such as sharing your own feelings and problem-solving strategies. They'll learn valuable lessons from your example.
Set aside regular check-in moments to ask your child how they're feeling. Make it a part of your routine to show them that their emotional well-being matters. These conversations foster trust and create opportunities for them to discuss their emotions openly.
“Families should also try and establish healthy routines,” Turner encouraged. “Consistency and structure contribute to a child's sense of security and stability. Healthy daily routines that include sufficient sleep, nutritious meals, physical activity, and designated time for relaxation and self-care.”
Step Forward helps ensure every child has the opportunity to begin an education right, is prepared to enter kindergarten and develops a love of learning from the start. Part of Head Start’s long-lasting legacy is that it will also help create a world where mental health is nurtured and that children will have the opportunity to grow into their fullest potential. The program serves preschoolers from ages three to five years old.
To apply for Head Start, click here.