Using supportive emotional language in the classroom when a young child is in a heightened emotional state has many benefits, among them helping them to become emotionally intelligent. This so-called Causal Talk in the Emotional Experience (CTEE) is a critical component of the begin to…ECSEL™ approach that we practice here at Beginnings School and Child Development Center. When used appropriately and effectively, CTEE helps children learn to identify, appropriately express, understand, and even regulate emotion.
In the classroom, I use CTEE to validate children’s emotions and in so doing validate them. I teach them that while we all have emotions and feelings, how we express those emotions and feelings matters. I assist them in understanding the source of their emotions or feelings and that they have a choice in how they respond. In so doing, I introduce to them the principle of cause and effect. As our Beginnings Founder Dr. Donna Housman always tells us, “If you close the door on an inappropriate behavior, you open the door to a more appropriate one.”
By teaching children how to identify, appropriately express, understand and regulate emotion, I am, in short, helping children to become emotionally competent, what is known in common parlance as emotional intelligence. This focus is a distinguishing and unique element of our program at Beginnings School and Child Development Center, which serves children aged three months to six years.
Below are four examples of CTEE in action:
When a child is over-excited and running out of the classroom
After I stop them, I use a voice of concern and say, “I see that you are excited and running out of the classroom. That scares me! You cannot run out of the classroom. You could bump your head or fall and get hurt and that would make me sad. Children walk and stay with their teacher so that we can be certain you stay safe.”
When a child is sad and has a hard time settling down for a nap
I show them illustrations of characters showing emotions, what we call “Shehemes” here at Beginnings. I say, “I see you are having a hard time settling down for a nap. Can you show me how you are feeling?” I give the child the Shehemes and the child picks the one that illustrates his or her emotion, in this case sad. I say, “Oh, I see you are sad by your tears, I am here to help you.” I may give the child a lovvie or other object that is comforting and then tell the child that he needs to go to sleep because we all need to rest our body for energy. I use a gentle and calm voice that supports the child and validates his or her emotion while at the same time diffusing its intensity.
When a child is eating but unsettled at the table, continuously getting up from a chair
I say, “I see you are restless and having a hard time sitting in your chair. When we eat, we need to sit so the food can go safely down our throat to our stomachs and so that we are not hungry later in the day. If you want to eat and not be hungry, then you need to sit. If you’re done eating, then you can get up and play.”
When a child is defiant and does not want to come for a diaper change or use the toilet
I say, “How are you feeling?” I show the child different emotions through the Shehemes and ask the child to show me which picture represents how he or she is feeling. Once the child has identified the feeling, I say, “I can see you are angry by the redness of your face and the way you are yelling and I can hear that you don’t want to change your diaper. But If we don’t change a wet diaper, your bottom will get red and sore and it will hurt when you sit down. You don’t want a sore bottom do you?” After I change the diaper, I ask how the child is feeling now and the child usually says happy and is on the way to understanding that emotions and feelings are not static but can change.
I take great pleasure as a teacher as I see my students begin to understand emotion and feelings. What I strive to teach them is that what matters is what we do with our emotions and feelings; as I close one door on an inappropriate behavior as an expression of that emotion, I open the door to an appropriate one. And while helping children accurately identify, appropriately express, understand and regulate their emotions, I also become more aware of my own which helps me teach not only by guiding but also by modeling. This work makes me feel good about myself as a teacher and as a person. It is invigorating and why after 51 years of working with children, I am not burned out.