A close up front-view of two best friends sitting in computer class with their arms affectionately over each other's shoulders and smiling as they look towards the camera.

9 Strategies to Promote Early Childhood Emotional Competence

In this blog post, guest writer Angel Monks summarizes information presented by Isabelle Vinet, Executive Director of the Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development, in the webinar Early Childhood Development in a Time of Pandemic: Emotional Competence. Isabelle Vinet shared 9 strategies that family support practitioners can use to promote childhood emotional competence skills.   

Through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, children face changes in routine and feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety. Developing emotional competence skills in early childhood leads to increased prosocial behaviours, empathy, and problem-solving strategies and reduces feelings of anxiety and depression.  

9 Strategies to Promote Emotional Competence Skills:  

1. Quickly Offer Comfort and Reassurance During a Child’s Time of Distress  

Offer the child words of support, a form of physical comfort such as a hug, or create a peaceful environment to process emotions. This encourages the child to form a secure attachment style with their parents.  

2. Provide Access to a Comfort Object  

Offer a specific toy or blanket that holds significance to the child. Presenting a comfort object builds a child’s sense of autonomy to their emotional regulation.  

3. Create a Safe Space for Children to Express Emotions 

Children acquire the skill of emotional expression before developing emotional regulation strategies. Providing a space for children to feel comfortable expressing emotions allows them to understand the bodily responses associated with a particular emotion. Avoid placing blame or punishing the expression of emotions as it can result in feelings of shame for a child.  

4. Remain Calm  

It can be challenging to remain calm when a child demonstrates intense emotions. It is essential to regulate your emotions before helping a child process their own. When a child is experiencing intense emotions, it can be challenging for them to calm down in an overly stimulating environment. 

5. Model and Label Emotions  

Imitation is a crucial aspect of development. Adults tend to hide emotions such as sadness or stress from children. Allow a child to see these feelings, label the emotions, explain the reasoning for the emotions, and demonstrate the strategies used to regulate them. It gives children the opportunity to mimic and model positive emotional regulation skills. 

6. Consider the Uniqueness of Each Child  

Each child has unique qualities related to temperament, attachment style, cognitive development, and environment. This influences the way they manifest and manage their emotions. Consider these qualities in providing specific adaptations, strategies and resources for their specific needs.  

7. Consider the Uniqueness of the Situation  

Examine the child’s situation and determine a balance between helping them process emotions and encouraging independent emotional regulation. It is important that children feel supported in their emotions while also building independent expression and regulation strategies. 

8. Read Stories about Emotions 

Read books with children that emphasize emotional regulation skills and discuss the different emotions expressed by the characters. Books provide an opportunity for children to label certain characters’ emotional expressions and why the character may express these emotions. This builds the skill of linking emotion to its cause and to solutions that regulate the emotion.  

9. Encourage Pretend Play  

Encouraging pretend play allows a child to act out different emotions, the consequences and benefits of emotional responses, and how to manage frustrations.  

Use these 9 strategies to help children express their emotions. Supporting the development of emotional competence provides children comfort in their emotional regulation and reduces feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety.  

For more tips on supporting early childhood development in a time of pandemic, check out the webinar series on Families Canada’s YouTube channel

Angel Monks 

Carleton University Student in Childhood and Youth Studies  

Families Canada