Emotional Safety for Kids

Lincoln is one of our preschoolers. You’re learning so much!!

We teachers at Harmony Arts have the best job ever, and that’s because we have the privilege to walk with children in their learning, and we feel very fortunate to have this honor. 

We enjoy our interactions with ALL our students, but today, we are going to talk about Preschoolers.  They can be pretty darn fun!

KIDS MAKE THE BEST COMMENTS:  We had a fun exchange recently.  In Preschool one morning, the teacher held up a triangle and asked, “What is this?”  Lincoln (name used with permission), one of our preschool students, replied with full intention and excitement, “It’s a Handy Dandy!”  Don’t you love that response?!  Smiling and matching his excitement, the teacher acknowledged and celebrated his participation, then moved on, not completely understanding his response.  

Our teachers, however, know that what kids say makes perfect sense to them, so after class, we mentioned it to his mom. She recognized right away that it came from a show he watches with a character who uses a  “Handy Dandy Notebook”. The notebook has a triangle on the cover. Lincoln recognized the triangle, even in a different setting, and made the connection, evidence of his learning and ability to connect information from different settings (an important readiness skill).  

Whenever a child says something, to him or her it makes perfect sense. We as the adults might not understand where it came from, but there IS a reason they said it!  As with the triangle, the connection made by the child was completely relevant in his point of view. 

OUR RESPONSE MATTERS:  When kids say things, our response can create an opportunity for them to either feel embarrassed or even ashamed, or, feel confident and creative so they want to share again.  For example, if a child says a string of silly words, we can recognize that as him practicing language (phonetic sounds, rhyming or alliteration) and encourage that practice through validation, or, we can shut him down by saying something like, “stop being silly” or “please be quiet.”

BUILDING A SAFE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT:  We create an emotionally safe environment for a child when we respect and acknowledge what she says.  A child needs safe opportunities to contribute to conversation so that you can be informed of what she does and does not understand, and so she can practice conversation (if they feel safe to make mistakes and share ideas) and build her confidence in speaking and communicating.   When she feels safe doing so, she feels important and validated.  This “safe” environment creates Emotional Safety for the child, which facilitates learning, and means the child feels valued, important, and respected. 

HOW WE BUILD A SAFE ENVIRONMENT AT HAMA:  We not only do all we can to create a safe physical space for our students and families, but we also strive to create a safe emotional space where students can learn, enjoy, connect and internalize the good we provide here.  Here are some ways we do this:

  • We look for every opportunity to validate anything that is remotely the child’s idea.   
  • With a child that will not yet participate, we read their body language and look for small, possibly unintentional ideas, and thank them for their idea.  Then we try it out!  Soon they learn it is safe to contribute ideas.
  • We go to great lengths to make sure children never feel ashamed, mocked, or embarrassed about what they were brave enough to contribute.
  • If we do not understand the child, if at all possible, we ask questions and engage the child in helping us understand what he means.  This teaches him that we care about him and we accept his ideas.
  • We try to remember that whenever a child says something, to him or her it makes perfect sense. We as the adults might not understand where it came from, but there is a reason he or she said it! Just like with Lincoln and the Handy Dandy, there was a perfectly good connection from the child’s point of view. 
  • We value this privilege and know that when we take that opportunity to understand the child, the child learns and so will we!  

We love being with the kids — it’s one of the reasons we love what we do!  It brings me so much joy to really “hear” a child.  What a blessing it is as adults to enter into the child’s world and see things through his eyes!