Classroom Management

Tips for Promoting Calm in Preschool

These strategies help students regulate their emotions, both individually and as a group.

July 9, 2024
FatCamera / iStock

Anyone who has spent time with children knows that they can have some big feelings that they don’t know what to do with. Their bodies and brains are still growing and learning how to regulate emotions. This can make being in a classroom full of 15 or so preschoolers quite tricky and even overwhelming at times. 

Through studying child psychology and a few years of working in a lovely preschool, I’ve built up quite the toolbox of ways to support children through these feelings and moments of struggling to regulate themselves. The following strategies have helped me support children through tricky transitions, unexpected feelings, giant sillies, and times when it just feels so hard to wait.

Establishing Emotional regulation in preschool

Helping children develop the skill of self-regulation can start by helping them to tap into recognizing their various body signals, as well as identify their own emotions.

  • “I wonder if your body has any messages for you? Is it whispering to you that it has pee to let go of?”
  • “Hm, I’m noticing that your head and body are slumped down and that you’re frowning—I wonder if you’re feeling sad?”

Every single child is at a different place with learning this level of awareness and understanding of their own experience. Learning to focus on our feelings (whether pleasurable or not) can be grounding in the present moment. 

In moments where a child can identify what they are feeling, caregivers have the opportunity to meet the child where they are with empathy. This allows the kiddo to feel known and seen, which can help them trust you.

A kiddo who is finished with their snack before the rest of the table may have a difficult time waiting for the group. If I notice some silliness bubbling to the surface I will come close and offer one of a few independent strategies for the child to practice with me. These can include:

  • Tracing lines on the tabletop slowly and quietly.
  • Tapping their fingers together or on their knees.
  • Looking around the room to count things.
  • Noticing a few things of each color of the rainbow.

It can feel so rewarding when you notice a child independently practicing one of the strategies. 

Strategies for Group calm

Helping a group of preschoolers transition from rowdy outside play to calmly eating lunch, and then to quietly listening to a story before rest time is quite the task. I’ve used some pretty creative means of holding the group’s attention and engaging them all in an affirming way for each child.

Some older children who get distracted chatting through transitions may be easily guided back on track with “Three Silent Steps” (a simple point to the next job or step with a little smile, an encouraging nod, and a moment of eye contact) from a trusted caregiver. 

Many others still benefit from more direct support and may need the routine sung to them (e.g., “To the bathroom, here we go, to the bathroom, here we are!” while maybe extending one hand to the child and one to the desired spot) to help them through a transition. 

Here are some strategies for helping groups regain their focus during transitions: 

  • Whisper: “If you can hear my voice, put your fingers on your nose,” and then wait to see how many children hear and join. Repeat with another body part, sometimes quieter or slightly louder to gain interest.
  • Ask: ”I’m thinking of an animal (or food, plant, teacher, child, etc.),” and then give three clues. The children listen closely and wait for three fingers to go up (one with each clue) and then guess. You could have them practice wiggling their fingers, or raising their hands to guess.
  • Sing: “I’ll put my tippy tappy fingers on myyyy… forehead!“ As you sing this body parts song, tap your fingers along different body parts and sing, sort of like another common children’s song, but do random body parts to engage the children as well as ground them in their bodies.

These games have saved me from getting overwhelmed countless times. 

Individual Support and Adaptation

When a child is consistently having a difficult time staying with the group (maybe they are being overly silly and trying to get other children to join in while eating lunch), they may need one-on-one support before they can regulate and rejoin. 

If you have tried to get close to a child and bring their focus to you, yet they are still struggling, this is a very good sign they need a moment off to the side with a teacher before trying again. 

Some strategies include: 

  • Relocating and changing the environment around the child while also staying close and verbally checking in.
  • Deep belly breathing: hold one hand on the stomach and feel it rise and fall with your slow breaths.
  • Carrying and lifting heavy objects to release excess energy. 
  • Acknowledging the feelings behind their behavior: “It’s hard that your teacher isn’t here right now. She asked me to take care of you while she does some teacher work, she will be back after rest time.”
  • Doing a few big movements to get big energy or sillies out:  some heavy stomps, jumping jacks or a few runs outside if it’s feasible.

After you begin to work one-on-one with a child, you’ll notice that they often will begin to look to you for a plan or next step without realizing.

Name of the game: Patience

Every child will have a preference for regulation tools. Try different ones out until you see what works, and be patient.

Whether a kiddo is crying, kicking and screaming, or laughing uncontrollably, it can be overwhelming to feel like nothing is ever going to help. Now we have revealed the opportunity for one of the best teaching methods for young children: modeling. You could say, “Woah, this is feeling hard for us. These big, slow breaths help my body. I wonder if you’d like to join me.” You might be surprised what a genuinely felt, low-pressure invitation will do in these moments.

Learning emotional regulation is a long process, but together you can help kids develop ways to work through big emotions.

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  • Classroom Management
  • Mindfulness
  • Pre-K

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