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Author Topic: Can small children articulate fear (and other more complex emotions)?  (Read 5839 times)

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Re: Can small children articulate fear (and other more complex emotions)?
« Reply #30 on: October 25, 2013, 01:28:47 PM »
I generally find that kids of that age *are*, however, very open to suggestion.  When my little ones get hurt, I try to immediately distract them from the pain by saying, "Oh, wow, that was a big fall!  I think you scored at least a 10!  Do you think that was your biggest crash today?"  Or things like that.  If I'm acting in a positive way, then, if (and only if) they aren't *too* hurt, they will go along with it.  It doesn't work if they're truly hurting, though.

I'll definitely be stealing this approach to use with my 3 year old!

Another little trick I do when they really do hurt and can't be distracted that way, is that I pretend to have a new body part available for them.  Originally it was just "a new knee," or whatever, and I'd pretend to pull off the old one, put on the new one, and kiss it (to make it stick), then I'd hand them the old one and they'd "put it in the trash."  By the time they walked over to the trash can, the pain would have subsided enough that they'd have forgotten it.  As the kids got older, I had to up the ante a bit.  Now, the new body parts are sized (I pretend to look in my pockets or a cabinet for a "size 3T leg" or whatever, and the parts also have decorations.  There's nothing for distracting a 4-year-old from a bruised chin than asking her if she wants the purple chin with the pink sparkles, the green chin with ladybugs, or the yellow chin with butterflies.
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Re: Can small children articulate fear (and other more complex emotions)?
« Reply #31 on: October 25, 2013, 04:17:20 PM »
I often scold the inanimate object that was around a child if they happen to bump or bruise themselves. "Naughty chair! You shouldn't let Billy fall off you! That's not very nice! Let me show you how to be a good chair. You have to be kind to Billy! Billy, let's show the chair how to be a kind one," etc. with accompanying over-the-top silly hand motions and voice inflections and so on. This helps if the child was partly responsible, e.g. if they weren't sitting properly. I'll check in shortly afterwards with, "Billy, are you still helping your chair be a good chair? It's not as clever as you, remember, so it doesn't always know how. I hope you're still helping it!" They sit properly more consistently to this than just asking them to sit up straight or whatever. And it's hard for a kid not to crack a smile when they're praised for 'helping' a chair.

Distraction is especially good for the really little ones, but it's fun for older kids too (even me!)

I've had a few kids who were scared of the dark or spiders or whatever, too. With the dark, if the class was really good, they would all be allowed to sit still while I turned the light off, and then we'd all make owl noises. Because it's framed as a reward, they really enjoy it. With bugs, I always talk about how scared and lost the poor bug must be and how we need to help them get home, and use some tissue to take it outside. This is an adventure and the kids come with me to help find a good spot for it to live. And they all get praised for helping afterwards, of course. Some kids will squeal or cry when they notice a spider on the wall near them, but after the whole class has helped rescue it, then they're generally pretty good if it ever happens again.

Positive positive positive. Don't dismiss fears or pain, but help them through it gently.


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Re: Can small children articulate fear (and other more complex emotions)?
« Reply #32 on: October 25, 2013, 04:35:10 PM »
Definitely, they can feel fear and even articulate it if they have the words. 
Just talk to any parent that has used baby signs.  Even one-year-olds can express what they are scared of. 
My 3-year-old has pointed out many particular Halloween decorations that are scary.  Even smiling pumpkins.  I don't know where is comes from, except maybe that we've been reading a book in which the girl goes off on her bike on her own and gets lost and scared. 


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Re: Can small children articulate fear (and other more complex emotions)?
« Reply #33 on: October 26, 2013, 12:19:30 AM »
Fear is a instinctive emotion and all humans can feel it from the moment they're born, as can animals.    I work with people with disabilities, many of whom couldn't "articulate" fear per se, but they certainly can experience it just as anybody else.

I do agree that it's important not to exaggerate or encourage fearful behaviour, as children obviously pick up on cues from adults.    With my 9 month old we are very careful not to assume his reaction e.g. when he falls we wait a moment to see how *he* is feeling/reacting before we decide how to respond.   Sometimes he thinks it's funny, even when I would have thought he'd hurt himself!   Other times, he is genuinely upset, so needs comforting.  If he falls off a toy / hurts himself and is upset I do encourage him to play with that toy again straight away, with my help, just so he doesn't associate being upset with that activity (kind of the "get straight back on that horse" philosophy!)

Saying that a particular activity or thing is "scary" and labelling it as such is not useful.    Acknowledging the emotion a child experiences is useful.    So saying "Yes that's scary isn't it" or making a fuss about it, is a bad idea.   But it is important to watch a child and be responsive to their emotions.  Trying to insist that something isn't scary when they feel it is would be counterproductive - you want to help them to address their fear in a rational, comforting way, not by ignoring it or brushing it under the table.   For example, if they are afraid of falling you want to show them why they won't or discuss the worst case scenario - for example "even if you did fall there are safety nets just there so it wouldn't hurt you".   
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Re: Can small children articulate fear (and other more complex emotions)?
« Reply #34 on: October 26, 2013, 01:15:19 PM »
I don't think it's useful to cue children that they might not be able to handle situations on their own. If they fall, calling out, 'Kaboom! You ok?' will often result in an affirmative. It shows concern for the child, without implying that this fall was too serious to shake off. Sort of how we'd respond to another adult- express concern, but we wouldn't try to get them to think of it as any worse than it is. It's modeling an appropriate way to handle a fall. You fell down, and if you're not damaged, you get back up and go on about your business.
If a kid's truly frightened, you don't push it. My parents for many years did Mr and Mrs Santa. Many children are afraid of Santa, because he dresses and acts so differently than any other adult they know. My parents were very successful in getting kids to warm up to them. For one thing, Dad has a voice that babies adore. He's always been able to soothe fussy children. And he does not go HO HO HO. And Mom, even in her costume, basically looked like a very ordinary elderly lady. (I won't say she looked like a grandma, as so many kids' grandmas are younger and livelier these days...but she looked like a 1950s stereotype of a grandma.:))  She would sit down and talk to frightened kids, assure them that they didn't have to talk to Santa, if they wanted to they could tell her their wish lists and she would tell Santa later. After awhile, watching other kids go over to Dad and get candy, she'd ask them if they'd like to go over and meet Santa. If the child did, Dad would not reach out for them, or try to get them on his lap. He'd talk a bit, then ask if they'd like a picture taken. They had a lot of parents say that they'd never been able to get a picture of their child with Santa before. But it was a combination of reassuring the child that this is safe enough and normal enough that, in small steps, he can do it.
I think it's important to assure a child that while something may seem scary today, there will be a day when it will not seem scary at all, and then they'll be able to do it without thinking twice. Maybe not today...but let's keep checking back, to see if tomorrow or next week is the day you'll be able to do it, right? Because no matter how afraid your child is of the toilet, no one goes off to college in diapers.  ;D


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Re: Can small children articulate fear (and other more complex emotions)?
« Reply #35 on: October 26, 2013, 02:20:55 PM »
Way back when, I used to give swimming lessons. With the really little ones, the 3 and 4 year olds, some of them fling themselves into the water headlong. And others take days to get their toes wet. They didn't have to tell me they were scared--their body language did that for them.

(So if you're wondering what sort of scary skill can be taught to a 3 year old, try swimming, or bike riding. Both of which can be really scary.)

What worked was slowly, sometimes very slowly, getting them used to the water. Sitting on the side of the pool and getting their feet wet. Then their hands. Then kicking their feet so they could splash me. Then dipping water up and pouring it on themselves.

Through all of this, they learned to trust me. They learned that they would have a fun time at the pool. And eventually, they all got in the water.

Then we had the same issues with putting their faces in the water. And again, a slow process to teach them that they *could* hold their breath, that the water wouldn't hurt them.

Repeat for floating on their backs, then their fronts. By the time they conquered that, they were usually fine.

But I did have some kids who needed two rounds of beginner swimming lessons, because they only got to the point of getting their heads underwater by the end of the first set. I never said, "This is scary." I acted confident that every child would eventually get into the water--but on his or her own terms. Didn't push them much, just a suggestion now and then. I'd ask them, "Are you ready to get in/put your face in/float on your back?" Giving them the control over when these things happened seemed to give them more confidence.
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