April 2023 preschool leader article
Missions Discipleship

Exploring the Social-Emotional Growth of Preschoolers: Expressing Emotions

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

—Colossians 3:12–13 (NIV)

Preschoolers have not yet fully developed a vocabulary for their feelings. They express with their actions what they are not yet able to verbalize.

Here are suggestions for how you can help guide preschoolers to understand and grow in their ability to appropriately express their emotions.

Remain calm. Remain calm as you interact with preschoolers who are not calm.

Validate their feelings. Avoid discounting their feelings. Listening with your ears and eyes helps preschoolers know you value them.

Observe emotions without judgement. Refrain from scolding the child for expressing an emotion. Simply observe what you see, provide language that describes the feeling, and provide appropriate behavior choices.

Set boundaries for appropriate behavior. Let the preschooler know that although their feeling is valid, how they express it is important. Provide alternative behavior choices allowing them to appropriately express their feelings. Throwing a toy at a friend is not a choice. Throwing a foam ball at a large soccer goal on the wall is an appropriate alternative.

Encourage self-control over teacher-control. Safety is always paramount, and some behaviors require direct intervention to protect the child or others. However, the goal is to equip the preschooler to manage his own behavior by providing specific, appropriate responses.

Foster ways to express positive emotions. Help preschoolers by modeling comments focused on love, friendship, fun, and thankfulness.

Provide choices for expressing an emotion. “Jillian, it looks like you feel angry, but it is not a choice to grab the block from Levi. You may choose to play with another block, or you may choose to sit by me in this chair.” You are validating her emotion while providing a solution and allowing Jillian to control her own choices.

Provide physical outlets for anger and frustration. Consider these alternatives for a child struggling with aggressive behavior.

Throwing Game. Hang a large picture of a soccer goal or football goalpost on the wall. Allow the preschooler to throw foam balls at the goal.

Relay Game. Using painters’ tape, hash mark the hallway. Each time the child passes a hash mark, have them choose a different movement. Jumping, hopping, galloping, and skipping will safely expend energy indoors.

Free Draw Art. Provide a large piece of butcher paper and crayons. Sit with the preschooler and observe as they draw. “Allison, it looks like you are coloring fast. I see you have chosen the orange crayon.” Again, avoid judgment. Refrain from telling them they are doing a good job, or you are proud of their picture. The drawing experience is an opportunity for them to express how they feel without seeking your approval.

You have the ability to set the tone for your preschoolers. Pray for your Mission Friends by name. The Holy Spirit is a powerful advocate as you seek to guide the youngest among us to develop emotionally and spiritually.

by Teri Ussery

This article first appeared in March-April-May 2023 Mission Friends Leader. Each quarter of Mission Friends Leader, the curriculum piece for preschool missions discipleship, provides practical information on working with preschoolers, achieving effective teaching and learning opportunities, and growth and development of preschoolers.