How to Help Young Children Regulate Their Emotions Human Tendencies According to Montessori

Maria Montessori’s teaching is becoming one of the most acquired among modern parents and early childhood educators. The reason behind this popularity is the fact that we are not satisfied with old-style parenting and raising techniques anymore.  We’ve realized that punishment and harsh discipline are not the answer to dealing with young children’s strong emotions and feelings.

Montessori suggests that young children should be given tools to regulate their emotions, such as exploring their feelings through art or music. Adults can also model emotional regulation by talking openly about their own feelings and managing them appropriately. Providing a calm and predictable environment with consistent routines can also help children feel secure and in control of their emotions. Montessori emphasizes that children develop at their own pace and should be allowed to express their emotions without judgment or punishment.

The greatest development is achieved during the first years of life, and therefore it is then that the greatest care should be taken. If this is done, then the child does not become a burden; he will reveal himself as the greatest marvel of nature. – Maria Montessori

Children’s emotions are not something that can be disregarded and left unnoticed. Montessori stressed how important it is to give every child the utmost respect. She calls for us to view every child as “the greatest marvel of nature”. That means that we have to recognize and understand the child’s needs and fulfill them to the best of our ability based on their natural state of being. Science suggests that a child’s emotional experiences from a very young age form part of their brain and get deeply embedded, influencing their behavior for years to come.

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First of all, when dealing with strong emotions it is important to keep in mind that 90% of the outcome depends on our reaction to the child’s outbursts.

Being their “calm within the storm” helps a little person regulate his or her feelings and calm down quicker. We need to respond and react from a place of compassion and empathy. Just like physical bruises, emotional bruises require our attention and care.

how to help young children regulate their strong emotions -practical ideas

It is crucial to help young children regulate their strong emotions as it promotes their mental and emotional well-being. Unmanaged emotions, such as anger and anxiety, can lead to behavioral problems, emotional instability, and social difficulties. Additionally, children who learn to regulate their emotions are better equipped to handle stress and conflict, leading to healthier relationships and better problem-solving skills. By providing children with tools and strategies to manage their emotions, they can develop emotional resilience and build a strong foundation for their future emotional development. This ability also enhances their learning experience, as they are better able to focus and concentrate in school.

Young children often struggle to regulate their strong emotions, leading to tantrums and outbursts. Parents and caregivers can help by creating a predictable routine, setting appropriate boundaries and expectations, and validating their emotions. Encouraging deep breathing or other calming techniques, providing sensory experiences, and modeling healthy coping strategies can also be helpful. It is important to acknowledge that learning emotional regulation takes time and patience, and seeking support from a mental health professional may be beneficial for both the child and the caregiver.

  • Acknowledge and validate their emotions: Children need to know that their feelings are valid and accepted, even if they don’t always express them in an appropriate way. Acknowledge their emotions and let them know that it is okay to feel upset, angry, or sad.
  • Teach coping skills: Teach children some coping skills to help them regulate their strong emotions. For example, deep breathing, counting to ten, taking a break, listening to music, or doing a physical activity like jumping jacks.
  • Practice mindfulness: Teach children mindfulness techniques such as meditation, visualization, and breath awareness. These practices can help children calm their minds and manage their emotions.
  • Encourage physical activity: Engage children in physical activities like running, playing, or dancing. Physical activity can help release pent-up emotions and energy.
  • Help them express themselves: Encourage children to express their emotions in a healthy way. You can provide them with art materials, paper, or a journal, where they can draw or write about their feelings.
  • Empathize and problem-solve: Listen to children when they express their emotions and try to empathize with them. Help them problem-solve by suggesting different ways to handle the situation or brainstorming different solutions.
  • Create a calm and safe environment: Children need a calm and safe environment where they can express themselves freely and feel comfortable. Create an environment where children feel safe to express their emotions without fear of judgment or punishment.
  • Set boundaries: Setting boundaries and consequences for unacceptable behavior can help children regulate their emotions. Consistent consequences can help children understand that their emotions are valid but that certain behaviors are not okay.

“When confronted by situations which concern the child and seem difficult to solve, do not seek outside remedies but concentrate upon the nature of the child and the essential needs of his development”.

“The Human Tendencies and Montessori Education” Mario Montessori

According to Montessori, all children need these essentials in order to advance successfully in life, or as Mario Montessori  called them, “human tendencies”:

Mario Montessori, the son of Maria Montessori, emphasized the importance of understanding human tendencies in education. He believed that children have innate tendencies, such as exploration, repetition, communication, and work, that guide their development and learning. Montessori education aims to support and promote these natural tendencies through a prepared environment and engaging activities. Montessori’s approach encourages children to become independent and self-directed learners, as they follow their interests and natural inclinations, rather than being forced to conform to external expectations. By understanding and supporting these human tendencies, Montessori education fosters children’s natural growth and development, both academically and personally.

He believed that these tendencies are innate and inherent in humans, and they drive many of our actions and behaviors.

Montessori identified 11 human tendencies:

  1. Exploration: The urge to explore and learn about the world around us.
  2. Orientation: The tendency to seek order and structure.
  3. Communication: The desire to communicate with others.
  4. Manipulation: The need to manipulate objects in our environment.
  5. Work: The drive to engage in productive work.
  6. Repetition: The tendency to repeat actions until mastery is achieved.
  7. Precision: A desire for accuracy and perfection.
  8. Abstraction: The ability to move beyond concrete experiences and think abstractly.
  9. Order: A need for routine and predictability.
  10. Self-preservation: The drive to ensure our own survival.
  11. Adaptation: The ability to adapt to changing environments and situations.

Montessori believed that understanding and addressing these human tendencies in education and daily life could lead to positive outcomes, including increased creativity, productivity, and satisfaction. Overall, the concept of human tendencies is a key component of the Montessori philosophy and approach to education.

Order – Children thrive when they have clear boundaries in place. Adults have to reinforce those boundaries in a matter-of-fact manner and stay consistent. The word “no” shouldn’t be something we tend to avoid. Even if it provokes a very strong emotional response. Comforting a child is a natural way to deal with those eruptions of feelings. Also, children feel safe and confident when they follow the everyday routine and know what to expect.

“If you hear yourself saying ‘no’ a lot then you can remind yourself that you’re doing a great job.” According to Manning, the self-esteem movement has hijacked our maternal instincts and our desire to be the best mothers possible. With the very best intentions mothers, and increasingly fathers, mistakenly feel that indulging their child’s every whim is a measure of their love for them.

“The pendulum has swung too far and we’ve gone from not being emotionally attuned with our children to thinking that protecting them from any discomfort or things that they don’t want to do is a way of showing love,” says Manning.

Rather than feeling bad about saying “no” to our kids, here are five reasons why we should feel good about it”. Continue reading here.

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Orientation – It is important for children to remember that they have a place they belong to – belong to the family and circle of friends and have a community to be a part of. A place where they can feel accepted, valued, and loved for who they are. Our task is to provide an environment where children are free to express their frustration, joy, contentment, anger, and fear. The peaceful environment creates a peaceful atmosphere, state of mind, and body for both – adults and children.

Communication – Communication is not always verbal. We can communicate peace, love, and acceptance through our gestures and body language. Always coming down to the child’s level and making eye contact are all essential parts of establishing successful communication based on respect.

Exploration – Children need to be familiar with their emotions and what to call those feelings that arise in their chest. They should be allowed to explore what in their environment makes them feel sad, happy, curious, exhausted, helpless, or empowered.

Activity (Movement or Work) – Play and Montessori work help children get familiar with social cues, learn what’s appropriate and what’s not, and help them to become masters of their own bodies. It gives them the joy of concentration and self-fulfillment.

Self-preservation and Self-Development – In order for a child to function and develop properly, we have to make sure that his or her needs are met on all levels. For the body, it is nutritious food and exercise, for the mind – challenges and means of development. The well-being of the soul and spirit is just as paramount.

Abstraction and Imagination – Children should be free to express their feelings and emotions through imaginative play, art experiences, and drawing.

Concentration – Repetition – Self Perfection – It takes time and practice to achieve a prominent result. We can reinforce mature emotional responses in various situations and be a positive role model in their lives. We have to prepare to demonstrate it over and over again and help children to adopt these behaviors in the future.

Exactness and Precision – Children trust that we will be consistent with our demands.

I’ve created this printable reminder – a part of what Mario Montessori called human tendencies – elements children need to develop, thrive and be successful. You can download the printable version here

every child needs to succeed printable

I’ve created A to Z Emotions and Feelings – ABC Cards. This is a great and fun tool for helping children to identify and name various emotions they may experience on a daily basis: A to Z Emotion Cards – ABC Cards

you might enjoy our learning resources to help support social emotional development in young children

About Anastasia - Anastasia is an early childhood teacher and the founder of Montessori Nature - a blog about Montessori living and learning and nature-based explorations. With many years of experience working in a Montessori environment and homeschooling her children, she directed her passion for all things Montessori and nature into creating educational resources. You can learn more here and browse her printables on Teachers Pay Teachers.

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