Emotion Commotion

The preschool years are a very exciting time. Kids seem to have come a million miles from their toddler years. Not only have they grown cognitively but have also advanced their social and emotional skills significantly. 

My older son is four and a half years old and it has been a delight to see him grow. Not only does he fascinate me with interesting talk everyday but has also come to understand and express his emotional side. He is learning about feelings- their causes, ways in which they are expressed and managing conflicts. Since beginning the 'big school', his curiosity about other children's behaviours and feelings has only grown more.

While he is happy to play with new friends, he feels the 'friendship' is ignored if they form new groups and gets upset. However, he is happy to go back and play with same children if they ask him to join in in a game. Kudos to him for trying to expand his emotional spectrum and being open to resolve inner emotional conflicts, however small they may be.

On our way back from school, I usually enquire him about how his day has been. Mostly I get "I don't know" and "It was OK, mummy" as standard answers. If he is a little more kind or has an interesting news he is happy to chat away.
"We played in the sandpit together. He is my best friend."
"I got a star for being kind and helpful in the class, for listening well."
"I made a new friend today. He was very nice. I don't know his name."
"I was very good at school today. I shared my game."

However, there are days when he gets upset about certain things that are opposed to his idea of play or friendship. 
"He is not my best friend. He plays fighting games. I don't play fighting games."
On one occasion, just before bedtime, he became sad and almost broke down. "Nobody likes me. Nobody loves me. They don't play with me." It was perhaps his fatigue coupled with some disappointment earlier in the day. But it took some comforting and reassurance before he could say his good night. 

For a parent, managing your child's emotional distress and dilemma could be a tough task. Despite their endless 'whys', there is only so much that can be understood by their minds, no matter how well explained it is. Sometimes, what we can know and trust from what they tell us is very limited. 

I try to encourage him to talk about his day, all sorts of experiences. If there is something he does not like but isn't of great importance, e.g. Issues with new friends, I usually tell him it isn't a big deal and that we can wait to see how that goes. Quoting a few examples from past experiences helps. Arranging play dates with previous friends is also a good idea. It distracts kids from their new overwhelming environment and gives them confidence about existing relationships. And, finally, tight cuddles and pep-talk should always lift their spirit. I tell my son I will always be his 'best friend' and will always love him. That adds to our bonding every single time.

Sometimes, I have seen him respond to situations with a very positive attitude. It surprises me to see how easily children can learn to adapt to new situations. If he doesn't see a friend he was looking forward to meeting he goes, "I don't see him. O well, never mind." In encountering unexpected things or responding to little mishaps he says, "That's OK mummy. Isn't it?" He is also appreciative of good behaviour from strangers, often quipping, "O, that's a very kind man, isn't it?"

I have often seeing him providing consolation to my younger son, his two-year-old brother, when the latter gets upset, offering him appropriate and sympathetic advice. If he can, he tries to provide solutions to his problems. 
"Why are you crying baby? Are you hurt? Let me see. Don't worry, I will make you feel better."
"You can't find your gorilla. Play with a dinosaur instead. You like him too. Don't you, baby."

It is reassuring to see that he is learning about positive behaviour and makes efforts to manage conflicting emotions, especially that upset him and challenge his pre-set notions about friendship and new relationships. He focuses on being a 'kind and gentle good boy'. But there are and will be times when he will need more help from us. The least we could do is to understand and appreciate him for talking about his feelings. If we can, we will resolve them. If we can't, we can always count on our hugs for comfort.

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