It’s OK to Get Upset

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As long as I have been a part of the early childhood education world, the following phrase has been a part of it: You get what you get, and you don’t get upset. 

I don’t know when parents and educators started using this phrase, but can we please stop?

Not only is it dismissive to the child aka you’re feelings don’t matter but more and more research indicates the importance of teaching children how to express and handle their emotions. When we teach children about their emotions, we give them the power of expression and self, and we start letting them know their mental health and well-being are just as important as their physical well-being.

I understand what the phrase is trying to do; it’s saying, whatever happens, it’s going to be ok, but to blatantly and repeatedly tell children they cannot get upset is ridiculous; it’s also not human.

We get upset. I get upset. One day years ago, when I was teaching four-and-five-year-olds, it was my day to be at the school early and open the classroom. On these days, I made a special stop at Starbucks and bought an expensive splurge drink. A parent who was in a rush asked if they could leave their child with me.  Even though I wasn’t clocked in yet and not even in my classroom, I was in the kitchen of the school enjoying my last moments of quiet before the crazy day began; I said yes. 

While in my hazy, still sleepy, somewhat-annoyed-that-the-parent-had-just-done-this-state, and trying to keep an eye on the kid while I got what I needed for the classroom snack that morning, I set my coffee down on an uneven surface and the entirety of my specialty, splurge coffee spilled on the floor. 

It wasn’t even 7 A.M. My once-a-week splurge lay on the floor (and I now had to clean it up). And I had a 4-year-old standing next to me. I vividly remember telling myself silently, “Don’t cry. Do not let this child see you cry over a spilled coffee.” Honestly I wanted to have a tantrum.

So why didn’t I have a tantrum? Well, I came close, but I didn’t because I had learned how to process and handle strong emotions. We need to teach our children that it is OK to be upset when something negative happens, but how you respond that matters.

When I was teaching and passing things out, I would always shorten it to “You get what you get.” There was always at least one child in the class who would then say, “and you don’t get upset.” When that happened, I would look at them and say, “It’s ok to be upset when you don’t get what you want; what’s important is how you handle it.” Pay attention to that second part – it is OK to get upset when you don’t get what you want.

I have been performing in theater and music nearly my entire life, which means there are countless times I didn’t get the part or the solo I auditioned for and wanted. Do you know how many times I was upset I didn’t get the part I wanted? EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Of course I was upset! But here’s what I didn’t do. I didn’t go on social media and bash everyone involved with the show. I didn’t scream and throw things. I didn’t swear off doing theater ever again. 

I talked to a friend or my mom. I went and did something I enjoyed like reading a book.  I took a walk and listened to music. I enjoyed a glass (or two) of wine. I took a bubble bath. The point is I found ways to work through my disappointment and move on. These are the skills we need to be teaching our kids. Go ahead and have your disappointment, but let’s figure out the best way to handle it.

There are times I cried and times I didn’t. There are times it took me a few weeks to get over the disappointment and times it only took a few hours, but I was still upset every single time; because I’m human. 

Is it appropriate for a ten-year-old to cry because their sibling got the last green Jolly Rancher?  In most cases, no; but they are allowed to be bummed out about it. Is it appropriate for a five-year-old to have a tantrum because their best friend got the sticker they wanted at circle time? Probably not, but if they do, we can use it as a teaching opportunity to find other ways to express disappointment.

It is rarely a healthy option to tell kids “Don’t cry” because it is another way of telling them their emotions are not valid, but sometimes it can be hard not to roll our adult eyes and think, “Really? He’s crying because Godzilla is no longer on Amazon Prime?” (And yes, my son did this. So what I like to do instead is say, “It is ok to be upset, but Is this situation worth your tears?” Phrasing things in this way makes children slow down and evaluate their responses.

We can help our children process big emotions and disappointments by using phrases like:

  • I see you’re really upset right now. Would you like some space?
  • This seems to be making you sad. Do you want to talk about it?
  • It is ok to be angry, but it is not OK to hurt people or things.
  • You seem worried. Would you like me to sit with you?
  • I am not sure what is bothering you, but I am here if you want to talk.

The more we as adults recognize and discuss emotions, the more our children will understand them. Like language and social interactions, children learn about handling emotions from the adults surrounding them.

If a child grows up in a house where anger is considered “bad,” they may have trouble processing feelings of anger because they believe it makes them bad. We must also avoid assigning emotions to genders. For example, if children hear that crying and whining is what girls do and boys should be strong and fearless, then we are assigning weakness as feminine, but we are telling our boys that they have to be brave all the time. 

Fear is another normal and completely biological response in many situations; fear is what kept our early ancestors alive. They needed to know when to run, when to fight, and when to hide too, survive. 

Emotions need just to be emotions—all normal and all OK.

Children should be learning self-awareness and understanding of their own emotions, regulating and controlling those emotions, learning to understand what is essential and what is not (AKA is this situation worth your tears?), and reading and understanding emotions in others. 

We do this when we allow children to see our emotions and emotional process and demonstrate how to handle disappointing and upsetting situations. Teaching emotional intelligence puts our children in the driver’s seat of their mental well-being and teaches them how to problem-solve and self-soothe. 

So, teach your kids you get what you get, and you CAN get upset. But also teach them that a tantrum over a Jolly Rancher probably isn’t worth the energy spent, and if you take the red one, at least you still got candy! More importantly, you’re helping them process their emotions and how to handle things independently so that when they are thrity they don’t have a melt down over spilled coffee.

Goldfish vs. Animal Crackers: How to teach young children about elections

The 2020 United States Presidential election is looming a mere three months away. And when I say looming, this is probably one of the most controversial and historical elections in U.S. history. As the 2016 election taught us, surprises can happen, and polls can’t always be believed. Regardless if you vote red or blue, teaching children the importance of elections and how the government works is key to creating generations of future voters. In all the years I taught preschool and pre-kindergarten, if there was a major election, I held a class election.

Now before you gasp and wonder, did she really polarize the children into two political camps? Yes, I did, sorta, but they weren’t democrat vs. republican; they were Goldfish vs. Animal Cracker. The only way for children to understand something is for it to be relevant to them. While I encourage reading children books about presidential and governmental figures, elections, and who can forget School House Rock videos, most of it will go over their heads, especially in preschool. Planning, implementing and carrying through on a classroom election, or if you are a parent reading this, a home election is a guaranteed way to educate children on politics without getting into the controversial nitty-gritty.

The concept of an election is actually quite simple to teach to children. You let them know there are two choices and each person gets to vote for one of those choices. The one with the most votes wins. Of course, as adults we know it is much more complex than that, but this is how you start. Teaching about elections not only gives young children a chance to learn about something some adults might consider beyond their scope, but it incorporates math, logic, and social emotional development. How does it feel if your choice won vs. if your choice lost? It teaches children we can hold different opinions but still remain friends and work together.

Each time I taught this unit I divided the class in half. One half was team Goldfish and the other was team Animal Cracker. The children had campaign meetings, created posters for their candidate, designed the election box and the ballot. Then, the children would “campaign” by visiting other classes and asking them to come and vote on election day. You can scale this activity down within your household and invite your relatives or close friends to vote via email.

Providing children with the opportunity to have a choice empowers them. And while the selection of snack may seem minor to you, it can be major to a preschooler! You can also extend this concept into voting about what toys to put out in a center, voting on the theme for a class party or voting about what book to read. For parents, you can host family votes on what movie to watch, what to order for take-out night and what board game to play! Once the concept of voting is introduced it can be used over and over again. Children will also learn about disappointment because no matter how much you want it, your choice will not always be the winner.

Engaging children in heavy political discussions and discourse is useless and not developmentally appropriate, although if you discuss politics at home, they are sure to overhear some of your opinions. This is not the time to preach and convert them, but you can use it as a way to say, “Mommy and Daddy don’t like “X” because of “ABC” or vice versus, “I like “Y” because she believes in “ABC” and so do I. It is important to explain to children why you feel a certain way, this will help build their cognitive development as well as a social and moral understanding of what it is important to you and your family.

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No matter what happens in the November election and how uncomfortable your Thanksgiving dinner, virtual or otherwise may be, there is nothing wrong with teaching young children the importance of voting and how the political system works. Remember, one day soon they will have a voice and they will be making the decisions so why not start the preparations now?

Kid, You Don’t Always Get a Trophy

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Moms and Dads, I need your help. Please, PLEASE, stop acting like your child just won the World Series while they stood in the left-field picking their nose as their team lost the game. On the same note, don’t tell them they should get a prize for trying. All this bombastic praise is raising a generation (or two or three) of entitled, impatient, aren’t I the most fabulous children that don’t know the first thing about surviving in the real world. Now before you stop reading, thinking I am the meanest mom in the world, allow me to say this. I love praising my children when it is merited. They do not get a parade for picking their shoes off the floor, they do not get a plaque to hang on the wall for completing their homework, and they do not deserve a trophy for losing. They don’t.

How can our children learn to process disappointment, anger, sadness, and all those scary and ugly feelings if we don’t let them? It sucks, I know, I have watched my son cry because the camp he was looking forward to all summer was canceled. I have seen him stomp his feet in anger and frustration because he couldn’t quite get the new skateboarding trick. I had to explain to him that he wasn’t cast in the first play he auditioned for and really wanted to do. Instead of blaming someone or something else, telling him he was the greatest skateboarder ever or really deserved the part in the play over the other boy, I told him the truth. Crazy right?

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I explained camp was canceled due to coronavirus that it was out of our control, and it is really disappointing, but some things we can’t change. I acknowledged his frustration with the skateboard and told him that the only way to get better was to practice and keep working hard, and I also acknowledged his effort. That’s different than blind, blanketed praise. I didn’t tell him he deserved something or was owed something, I said to him that I could see how hard he was trying and if he kept at it; eventually, he would get there. And when it came to the rejection from the play, as a performer, I had been there more times than anyone can count, and I said it sucks, it hurts, but it’s the way it goes. You wait for the next opportunity, and you try, and you try, and you try. As the saying goes, you fail 100% of the time you don’t try.

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What you DO want to praise and encourage is their effort, hard work, determination, and insight. The key is to be specific. Tell them WHAT they did that caught your attention. Then, help them problem-solve to get to the next step. “You did a lot of research on your planet project, I saw you reading all those books from the library. Since you didn’t get the grade you were expecting, what do you think you could have done differently?” In one fell swoop, you validated their effort and work and opened the door to help them do better next time.

As parents, we want our children to have the sun the moon, and yes, throw the stars in too. We don’t want them to feel disappointment or shame or anger; how else will they learn? If we take every upset away and make them think they should always win despite lack of effort, natural talent, or unforeseen circumstances, how will they grow? If we hand them everything instead of teaching them the value of hard work, how will that benefit them? The best thing we can do as parents is to embrace the difficult times that come their way and use them as teachable moments. I know it’s not easy, but they will thank you later.

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Art with Young Children

Arts and Crafts. That phrase probably revives memories of elementary school classrooms or summer camp. Being asked to wind yarn around Popsicle sticks glued together, or to paint a picture of the outdoors. More often than not cookie-cutter crafts and art projects would be produced, taken home to smiles from mom and dad and then eventually thrown away. Unless you are my mom, who apparently has boxes full of old items ready to be gifted back to my hands and out of her house. Why did we and do we continue to engage children in arts and crafts? The purpose surely cannot be so that can mass produce animal masks and dream catchers.

Early in my career as an educator I began thorough research into this topic and came across the phrase, “Process, not Product.” Put simply, this means your child’s process of creating the piece of art, or the craft is more meaningful and educational than the finished product. Isn’t that interesting? I thought it was. As a trained actor and musician the purpose of the finished product was to create something recognizable and enjoyable for the audience. What would “42nd Street” be without flashy costumes and tap shoes? Or what about a Mozart symphony where all the violins were flat. But then I thought about this further. Each performance of a piece, even with the same group of performers is never exactly the same. When a theatrical production is done by different directors, actors and producers it becomes it’s own entity, different from all that came before and will come after.

Then it made sense. As an actor learning my lines or my notes were only a part of the piece. Each show I have been in has taught me new words to add to my lexicon, a new technique or behinds the scene trick. With each show, I have learned something new through the process of creating the production.

So What’s the Process?

Open-ended art is a process of creating which allows free-range while creating. You create with what is available to you and possibly with no clear destination in mind. Open-ended art supplies are now common in a preschool or kindergarten classroom, including paper, markers, crayons, scissors, glue, stickers, stamps, paint, sequins etc. Children are free to create throughout the day. This type of art center can be easily made at home. Open-ended art allows children to use their imagination to explore and create without it having to be something. Young children who engage in art often don’t know what they are creating and will usually not decide if ever until they are completed.

What Are They Learning?

  • Problem Solving
  • Creative Expression
  • Critical Thinking
  • Mathematical and Spatial Reasoning
  • Science Skills

At Home

Our house is a well-spring of supplies and yours is too! Recyclables are some of the best items you can use and kids adore them! All of those empty cereal and snack boxes, catalogs you toss away, junk mail all can be used in open-ended art. If you are like me and believe an Amazon Delivery Away Keeps the Urge to Raid Target Away, save the boxes and let them use those! My youngest son has created rather elaborate forts of late out of boxes with just scissors and markers and my older son created airplanes and boats with empty 2-liter bottles, egg cartons, and cardboard. Consider collecting buttons, fabric scraps, string, twine, Popsicle sticks. If you can save it, they will use it.

Language Please!


At times our child’s art leaves us thinking… what is that?! Instead of asking your child, “What is that?” replace it with, “Can you tell me about what you made?” When we ask a child what their art is we immediately imply we can’t recognize it, aka, it’s not good. When you ask them about it you provide the opportunity for an open ended answer. Often when young children are engaged in art they don’t even know what they are making, so asking them what it is puts them on the spot, which is an uncomfortable position for children and adults alike! Follow up with further open-ended questions which will promote language skills and critical thinking. Some suggestions are

  • Can you tell me more about this blue line you drew?
  • I see you drew triangles, can you count them?
  • Why did you choose to use red and purple?
  • How does your drawing make you feel?

Accept the Mess


This can be the hardest part, but it should become our mantra to ensure our kids feel the freedom to create. This doesn’t mean we allow them to trash the kitchen with paint and glitter, but messes that occur as part of the natural process when making art are OK. Help your child build a sense of independence and responsibility by teaching them in clean up process. Breathe easy, go mediate in the next room is mess bothers you and allow the mess to happen, but make sure clean up is a group effort!

So grab the glue sticks and glitter because it’s time to get messy!

Kids & Yoga; put together and mix well


Yoga is an ancient Indian practice that was developed over 5,000 years ago by the Idus-Sarasvati civilization. Post-Classical Yoga, which was established sometime after 200 BC, was the beginning of what we in the west call yoga. As describe by Yoga Basics, “Yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They rejected the teachings of the ancient Vedas and embraced the physical body as the means to achieve enlightenment.”.

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The Modern Period and popularization of yoga in the west happened during the 1800s and 1900s when gurus started visiting western countries and attracting followers. Today, many of us in the west use yoga as a form of exercise and wellness. We participate in stretches and poses to relax and strengthen muscles also creates flexibility and develops balance and core strength. While yoga has been primarily thought of as an adult activity, I am here to educate on how beneficial it can be for children!

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Yoga provides the same benefits for children that it does for adults. A child who participates in yoga develops gross motor skills, core muscles, and balance. Yoga is an excellent tool to help children calm down and self-regulate. Most importantly, yoga is physical activity, which in today’s world of iPads, electronic devices, and sitting at a desk during school, is especially critical.

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My hands-down favorite for children’s Yoga is Cosmic Kids. These yoga journeys are not only physical movement, but they provide mindfulness and are presented through a story, which means they promote literacy as well! Triple score! I have used these repeatedly in my preschool classroom, and my two children, ages 9 and 6, love them as well. They have a story for just about every character and storyline you could think of. Have fun with your children, and jump in alongside them. Children are the epitome of Monkey See Monkey Do, they want to be just like the important adults in their lives. The bonus is you get a workout too! Not to mention, it is a fun way to bond. Some of them include bursts of running, jumping, and other cardio making it a whole body workout! Making fitness and wellness, a family affair has benefits for everyone.

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Statistic time! When children learn the importance of health and wellness at a young age, they are much more likely to continue those habits into adulthood. According to the CDC, 18.5% of children between the ages of 2-19 suffer from pediatric or childhood obesity. Those are staggering numbers. With the technology available at every turn, it can be difficult to entice children away from those devices. Therefore, I say make the devices part of the routine. Use sites like Cosmic Kids, GoNoodle, and artists such as Jack Hartman and The Learning Station to engage your children in an activity, movement, and song. Many of these videos are available free on YouTube!

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Get up and get moving! Teach your child the healthy benefits of yoga and exercise, and have fun at the same time!