Crying does not necessarily mean a child is sad. For a toddler, crying is a basic tool to process any given emotion. They may cry out of anger, frustration, fear, excitement, confusion, anxiety or even happiness. The trouble is, they lack the verbal ability and self awareness to understand and explain how they are feeling. Asking a 2 year old child "What's wrong?" will rarely give a productive response.
Never say "Don't cry", "Stop crying" or "Crying is no good" to a toddler. You will send a signal that you do not understand them and that their emotions are invalid. Your failure to acknowledge how they are feeling in the moment deprives both you and the child the opportunity to learn how to process that emotion in a more positive way. We can only teach "emotional self-regulation" with empathy and understanding.
If a child can understand you verbally, calm their fears by positive reasoning. "Do not worry, your mom/dad loves you very much. She/he loves you so much and wants you to have fun and make many new friends. Remember, your mom/dad will always pick you up in the afternoon and do lots of fun things together with you too". Use validating sentences as below.
- We are on the same team. I will help you
- I can see this is hard for you.
- I understand you're sad/scared/anxious/happy and that's OK
- Would you like help to try again?
- Let's take a break
- I remember when you...
Routine and consistency; Do follow schedules as it quickly establish a memorized familiarity and an understanding of the day. "Wake-up, go to school, play & learn, naptime, pick-up, dinner, go to bed... repeat". Good routines = good habits and comfort.
Distraction techniques are only temporarily useful to let a child with anxiety cool down and take their mind off the emotional tantrum. Long-term wise you must identify the root of the cries and make appropriate adjustments (if a child cries out of anger, because they wanted to put on shoes by themselves... trying to distract with a sound/mirror etc. might just make it worse)
Change scenery; It can help to have a new location to focus on. A new place is interesting, distracts and might not be associated with current anxiety associations e.g. "is mommy hiding outside the door", "what is in the bathroom?" etc.
TLC (tender loving care); Give small hugs, pick them up for a few minutes only and show care.
Change comfort person; Do not create an addictive pattern, where a child needs stimuli from one person only and when put down will cry even more.
Avoid "cry-it-out" technique; Children should maximum be allowed to cry-it-out for a duration of 5 minutes. It is important that teacher/ parent or caregiver check, speak to and try to engage consistently and regularly to let the child feel included, remembered and NOT abandoned.
Play music (gentle pop songs or instrumental music), talk, make some noise; Children will engage audio
sensory observations to listen and try to make sense of the rhythm, words, location and meaning of sounds.
Cognitive stimuli or learning curiosity (trying to figure something new out) compared to emotional addiction (the safe zone anxiety) is a primal survival skill and is the growing of independence and understanding of our surrounding world. It helps any child overcome the emotional challenge as a matter of priority.
Appreciation of water; Take child to the sink area or water play, turn on the water. As light, sun and a fire-place, water is an essential , almost hypnotic force of nature. Watching the water flow, maybe even touching it and listening to the calming sound of running water helps children forget their tears.
Self identification; Use a child safe mirror to let children look at themselves, open shut eyes and facial mimics, hide it and put it back. The reflective element of watching themselves in a mirror, seeing themselves will cause most children to instantly stop crying and begin to observe themselves with intent to learn "who am I?".
Soothing voice; Recite in a calm and soothing voice a children's rhyme, song or story.
"Shh, Shh, Shh" sounds (loud even), mimics the "whooshing" sounds heard in mother's womb during pregnancy and is a surprisingly effective sound of familiarity and comfort for children and adults alike.
Lights on/off; Controlling day/night, light/dark is an essential mesmerizing magic skill that is imbedded in our psyche.
Lovey's do help (for PN only); It comforts a child with anxieties. It can be a teddy-bear, a baby towel or even a school bag. It's a physical reminder of home, that home still exists and that he/she will be picked up.
Other sensory stimulation; Engage a child's tactile intelligence (roll play-dough, touch different textures, use a wet towel, go to play-ground), sense of taste (enjoy a piece of apple with a comforting familiar taste). Smell (let children smell an orange peel, tea leaves etc.). Sound (play with musical instruments such as drums, shakers).
Keep things upbeat (smile, eye-contact and positive); A parent or educators main goal when sending child to kindergarten, playground, bathroom etc. is to leave them with a positive and reassuring message. Parents must put on a happy face to reassure that going away (and returning) are perfectly normal. It helps a child to feel safe if they get a "I'll be back soon" or a "have fun!" encouragement and always a smile, pad, high five or recognition from teacher/parents alike.
Most importantly. Always remember, that nothing influences a child more than a parent/teachers own anxiety. A parent getting emotional, crying or asking questions like "are you going to be ok?" (shouldn't I be ok?), "what don't you like at school?" (Everything! Because my mom is not here!) or "I will give you a toy at home" (This must be serious, like going to the doctor).
Put things in perspective and relax. School is not far away, we (teachers) are not strangers and parents are not giving away their child. Going to kindergarten, same as school is a natural part of growing up and making friends.
We will do it all together! We love our children!
Hui Xin management
and the teacher team!