It’s very, very, very hard to wait

Hedda Sharapan

I’ve just come back from the Professional Development Institute of NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children). It’s one of the major early childhood conferences, and it was exciting once again to be part of this community of dedicated professionals in our field.

This year’s theme was “Emotional Intelligence” (EQ), and we titled our session "What we can continue to learn from Fred Rogers about EQ.” As you can imagine, it wasn’t hard to figure out what ideas and videos to use in our workshop because “emotional intelligence” has always been at the core of our work:

  • being aware of our emotions;
  • naming feelings;
  • finding healthy ways to express feelings;
  • developing self-control and self-regulation.
  • Fred was nurturing EQ long before Daniel Goleman named it and the field embraced it!

Here’s one of my favorite video clips from our presentation, featuring the beloved Make-Believe puppet character -- Daniel Tiger. It’s nighttime and the day before his friend Ana Platypus’s birthday. Daniel needed some help from Handyman Negri for the birthday gift he was making, but he had to wait until Negri was available. Watch this short video clip to see how, through Daniel Tiger, Fred modeled for children how to manage their feelings when they have to wait.

Fred was a master in addressing complex ideas about emotional development in ways that seem so simple. Here are some messages he was offering in the video – along with ways you can apply them in your work:

Help children know that feelings are natural and normal – and sometimes hard to deal with.

Through Daniel Tiger and Handyman Negri, Fred was helping children to know that their feelings are a natural part of being human and that others feel that way, too. Fred used to say “There's no should or should not when it comes to having feelings. They're part of who we are..." What really matters is what we DO with our feelings.

Let children know they have ways to manage their feelings.

Children often feel overwhelmed by their feelings and don’t even know there are things they can do to deal with those feelings. You’re supporting their EQ when you help them realize there are lots of different healthy things they can do when they’re sad, angry, frustrated, impatient, excited – or whatever they’re feeling.

In the video Daniel talked about strategies that he found useful when he has to wait. But all too often, we provide the strategies, like songs or transition games, to fill the waiting time without giving children the chance to develop their own inner capacity to wait. Maybe, too, it would help to decrease the seemingly endless time that children spend waiting -- by doing “show and tell” in smaller groups or making sure we have multiples of the exact same toys.

Recognize that different strategies work for different children.

In the video Daniel mentioned a few different suggestions that might work – making up a song, drinking juice and exercising. What works for one won’t work for all children, but there’s a wide range of things that can help. Some children are more active and need a physical outlet. Some might be more inclined to use their imagination and make up a story or a song or just think about something.

Choose healthy ways.

I know a teacher who was approached by a mother about how to help her child learn better ways to handle angry feelings instead of hitting. The teacher suggested they make a list of what we CAN do and CAN’T do when we get angry. They kept the list in the child’s room as a reminder.

Ask the children – what helps you?

Here’s an idea for small group discussion -- ask the children to talk about what helps them when they’re sad or angry. You can apply it to all kinds of feelings. I talked with a teacher who was concerned about all the scary images around Halloween. She used that opportunity to ask the children what helps them feel better when they’re scared. That’s empowering for children! It can also help to talk about the things we adults do, to let children know that we sometimes feel sad or scared, but there are things we do that help us feel better.

What constantly amazes me is how timeless Fred's wisdom is -- and how important his messages about EQ are for all of us, no matter how old we are.

P.S. Thanks to my co-presenters Annette Santella and Dr. Roberta Schomburg, and to all those who were at our workshop session. And a special thanks to old and new friends whose conversations continue to nourish and inspire us.

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