Helping Your Preschooler Handle Strong Emotions

The stress of the past year has been overwhelming.

It is unclear when exactly current restrictions in place to protect us from Covid-19 will be lifted and when we can go back to “normal.” We as humans are constantly changing and adapting to the need to be safe in a pandemic, causing job and family related stress. Everyone is feeling some form of stress due to the pandemic.

When a young child is feeling stress, they may not have the words to say how they are feeling. Instead, a young child may have more physical symptoms related to stress and complain about headaches or stomachaches. They may become clingy, cry more often, and have difficulty sleeping. They may even start wetting the bed again after being fully potty trained.

To help your preschooler learn about feelings and ways to express them positively with you at home, it is important that you are taking care of yourself. Take time to read a favorite book, cook a favorite meal or take a long bath. Whatever helps you relax, it is important to do so you are able to support your child.

Once you feel ready to take on your preschooler’s needs, the following tips will help you help them understand all the change that is going on around them and identify how they feel.

5 Tips for Your Preschooler During a Pandemic:

Give your child the extra attention they need right now. If your child needs more time to run around outside, allow for that. If they need more cuddle time, allow for that as well. These activities will also help to calm your child when they are upset.

Let feelings be ok. Everyone experiences a variety of feelings. Your child needs to know they are important to you no matter how they are feeling.

Help your child identify their feelings. You can say things like, “You seem sad or angry right now.” “You got angry when your sister took your toy.” This allows your child to learn how to identify their feelings and learn to talk more openly about them.

Maintain as predictable of a routine as possible and explain planned changes in routine before they happen. Maintain consistent bedtime and wake up routines and help your child understand what is happening by explaining step by step the plans for the day as they change.

Have fun with your child. Children connect and learn through play. Get some art supplies out and draw together if that is what you child likes to do. Play ball, read with your child, have a tea party or build a fort.

Parents and families are facing unprecedented challenges as we enter another year in a pandemic.

Your preschool age child might be learning on the computer instead of in a classroom. Your young child is learning to adapt to a change in school routine and family routines as more people are home sharing space and attention. The more consistent you are with your young child and the more you allow them to understand that you are there to help them, the better they will cope with the challenges of the day.

If your child is showing nonstop acting out behaviors for several weeks, it might be a sign that they could benefit from mental health services. Sometimes a child’s actions need more attention than you can provide alone at home. If your child is withdrawing from family members, expressing excessive worry or sadness and throwing nonstop tantrums for several weeks, it might be time to talk to a therapist.

If you think your preschooler is struggling beyond typical responses to stress, or have questions about other issues, email us or call (217) 203-2008.


Video, Anxiety and Depression Association of America:

Supporting Young Children after Crisis Events, NAEYC, July 2020, D.J. Schonfeld, T. Demaria, S.A. Kumar

*Helpful and fun Children’s books that talk about feelings:
The Color Monster, A Pop-Up Book of Feelings by Anna LLenas. Join a little girl and her color monster as they use colors to sort out different feelings. Grab some crayons and paper and help your child identify a rainbow of feelings.

How Are You Peeling? Foods with Moods by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers. This colorful book shows how fruits and vegetables can be used to express the many feelings we all experience and how to share your feelings with others.

Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard. Follow a bird who is taking a grumpy walk as his many animal friends show empathy when they join him in their walk to cheer him up.