In this episode of The Preschool Podcast, we connect with Marcelle Waldman. Marcelle is a teacher, parent, and founder of FeelLinks. She is passionate about teaching social-emotional skills to our youngest learners so that they can grow up with skills in self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship skills.
We learn the basics of why it is important for children to recognize and understand their feelings, as well as talk about what our emotions are called – otherwise known as emotional vocabulary. We learn the importance of children sharing how they are feeling, and how to teach children to recognize, label, and understand words and physical feelings for their emotions. We also touch on how journaling can help with this learning.
Bringing your calm when a child is not calm is the most important tool you can take.Marcelle Waldman
- [Podcast] Managing Children’s Feelings by Understanding Your Own with Tamar Jacobson
- [Podcast] Building Socio-emotional Skills Through Literacy with Cheryl Lundy Swift
- [Webinar] Five Ways to Build Socio-Emotional Learning at Your Center with Roxanne Thompson and Valerie Zaryczny
- [Blog] Preschool Socio-Emotional Development Through Play
- [Webinar] Validating Children’s Emotions in the Early Years with Maddie Hutchison
- [Marcelle’s Book Recommendation] Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett
- [Marcelle’s Course Recommendation] Dr. Mona Delahooke
Like our Podcast? Find more here!
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That’s another really big part of emotional intelligence, is getting more understanding of other emotions, growing your emotional vocabulary, and being able to really put specific words to our feelings.
Marcelle, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!
Thank you, Ron, nice to be here today. Appreciate it!
We’re really excited to have you on the show with us today Marcelle Waldman. She’s a teacher, a parent, a community educator, and creator of something called FeelLinks, which we’re going to learn a bit about today. But before we do that, let’s start off learning a little bit about you, Marcelle. Tell the audience a bit about your background and how you became passionate about social-emotional skills and teaching our young ones about social-emotional learning and skills.
Okay, well, let me just tell you, I live in the Seattle area. And I am right back where I grew up in the same local area, not too far away. But growing up, I really felt that my passion was always babysitting, being with the kids, and decided, at a young age, I was either going to be a veterinarian or an elementary educator. So, I decided elementary education was kind of the top contender.
So, I went off to college and got my elementary [education] degree and came back to actually my hometown where I grew up and got a job in, not the school that I went to growing up, but a neighboring school and taught in the very district that I grew up in. I was a kindergarten teacher for many years. And as I was teaching kindergarten, we also had an autism spectrum program at our school. And at the time, I was really learning how to be an educator; I was learning how to educate all kids with all varying developmental levels and all of that.
And what I realized was, “Oh my goodness, we don’t have a social-emotional curriculum.” So, I just went out and I found the books and I came up with resources. And I was reading books that were kind of at that time, it was Jed Baker who had some books on teaching explicit social-emotional skills to kids at the time. And I really realized all of my students really needed this. And not having a set curriculum had me going out, like I said, and kind of coming up with all the tools.
And so I just started growing a huge passion for the importance of social-emotional learning for our youngest children, especially, and really getting them off on the right foot. And fast forward a little bit, after having my own two children, I then became a preschool teacher. I was a director at a preschool and I brought in some of the tried-and-true things that I was doing as a kindergarten teacher to my pre-K [pre-kindergarten] kids and just really continued to have a deep passion for it.
And so then, as I said, I was a mother and my creativity in the space of that social-emotional learning and then kind of the need to be a little bit more home with my kids, I actually created FeelLinks. And so it is a set of FeelLink Dolls. There are four dolls and they each have an emotion. And each side of the doll has a different emotion. So, out of the four dolls, there are eight, I call them the “core feelings of FeelLinks”.
And there’s also a FeelLink journal that is paired with the dolls. And the dolls and the journal really came out of things I was doing with my kindergartners and my preschoolers. And so I launched a year ago. And FeelLinks is in homes, in therapy centers. Pediatricians are using it in their offices and school counselors. I am just really excited for where this is, a year later. So, that is my background and kind of how I came up with FeelLinks.
Cool. So, I’m sure our audience would love to hear more about FeelLinks, and we’re going to dive into that before. We do, I have one question about your background: You went from being a teacher, sort of in the K-12 education bracket. And then you decided to move into preschool. What made you decide to do that, I’m curious to know.
So, honestly, I was making it work for our family. So, I was following my own child. So, our youngest child, he’s now nine. But when he was in preschool, I was offered to teach and take over and direct at a preschool. And I thought, “You know what? This will be a really nice balance for our family,” because I had a daughter who was already in elementary school.
And so the timing was perfect. We were nine-to-one; it was a play-based preschool. It was sort of things that were really important to me as a parent and an educator. And it was just the perfect fit. And it happened to be right in the same town, again, that I had grown up in, that I was already teaching in. And so the community, I was really close-knit with already. And my husband always teased me when we’d go to the farmer’s market. He’s like, “I feel like we can’t go anywhere without all these people knowing you.”
But like I said, I grew up there and then I was teaching kindergarten and then went and taught at the preschool. So, it was just the perfect transition for our family at the time. And knowing where those littles we’re going into that K-12, into kindergarten and what we really wanted them to know and be able to do as kindergartners… I loved getting to teach preschool, knowing what was coming next for them. It was a really special change.
Cool, cool. That’s interesting, thanks for sharing that. So, tell us a little bit more about FeelLinks. So, FeelLinks is about social-emotional connections and confidence; it’s about feelings. It’s kind of funny because as an adult, you’re a little bit, the thinking might be kind of like, “Okay, well these emotions or feelings, isn’t it kind of obvious what they are?” So, for anyone who might be a little ignorant to children’s development and how that works at a young age, maybe you can explain it sort of from the basics, in terms of just why it’s even important for children to recognize and understand their feelings.
Let me start out by saying that when we talk about understanding our feelings, there’s kind of this buzzword. And it is, to me, very important. And it is “emotional intelligence”. And what that really is is our ability to monitor our own and others’ feelings and emotions and having us understand them. So, understanding our own emotions, understanding others’ emotions, and what do we do with that? Like, what do we do with that information and how does it guide our thinking? And how does it guide our actions?
And when we’re building emotional intelligence, we are starting from the moment our children are born. The reason we’re doing that is because we are doing something really important from when our kids are born. And that is something we call co-regulation, which is, let’s say you drop a pan in the kitchen on the floor. That’s really loud, right? So, if the baby in your home starts crying because maybe that scared them, which would be what we would think as a parent, like, “Ooh, that loud noise really scared them.”
The best thing we can do from that very, very, very young age of that infant is to help soothe that, right? They don’t know how to soothe themselves right away. I mean, they will figure it out – some will find a thumb and some will find different things. But the parent who just dropped the pan on the floor, probably going to go over, you’re going to have a soothing voice, you might rock your child. And you may say something like, “Wow, that must have really scared you. That was a really loud noise,” because, of course, we want to talk to our children, as they are infants.
And being able to get that started at that age is so important because what we’re doing as they are growing up and we are teaching them emotions, we are talking about words that our emotions are called, right? So, that’s called the emotional vocabulary. Why are we teaching them emotional vocabulary? Well, because we want our children to be able to tell us how they’re feeling. We also want them to be able to tell how someone else might be feeling.
So, when we talk about this big umbrella word of “emotional intelligence” and what we are growing for our children for life skills, they are really growing pieces that are forever going to be a part of who they are. So, self-awareness is one of them. So, knowing our own feelings, being able to feel self-confident, be able to feel motivated by who we are. I mean, that’s something we probably would all really like for our children.
Being socially aware, having empathy for others. If we can understand how we’re feeling – “Wow, what does it feel like to feel grief or feel sadness?” – then we can understand maybe somebody else’s sadness. And we can read their facial cues and we can understand that maybe they need something from us. So, that’s that social awareness.
And the third piece is self-management. So, when we’re understanding our emotions and we’re understanding how other people’s emotions are and we can name them and all of the important things that take a long time, which some of us adults are still really working on, self-management is regulating our emotions. So think of, “What do I do when I’m feeling a big emotion? How am I having a growth mindset? How am I adapting?”
And then the fourth piece is relationship management. So, really building bonds with others, having leadership, teamwork, collaboration. So, these are really big things in our life that, if we are starting with children at a young age, we are setting them up for success in so many facets of their feelings of themselves, their social awareness, their relationship skills, their ability to navigate school and home and friendships. All of this is emotional intelligence. And it’s a huge, heavy lift. So, it’s really important, as parents and caretakers, that we’re starting from a very young age.
Cool. That’s super helpful, thank you. And tell us a little bit about how FeelLinks can help children with this. And I see there’s also a journal, as well, that can go with some of the other components. And so [we are] curious to know, I guess, how that works together.
Great. So, the dolls are super squishy and soft. And each of the dolls have a colour. So, for instance, the Calm Doll has a light blue. And then when you flip over the calm doll, there’s an orange, excited. So, like I said, there are four dolls, but each of the dolls are double-sided. Each of the dolls have not only a facial expression and a colour to them, but they also have what I call “touchpoints” on the head, the heart and the belly.
And the reason that those are on there is because we not only need children to be able to recognize and understand and label words of their emotions, but what are their bodies feeling like? What are their heads feeling like when they’re feeling different emotions? So, maybe we’re teaching them signals of when they’re going to be worried or anxious. “So, what is your belly feeling like when you’re feeling anxious?” “Well, I’m feeling butterflies,” or whatever it might be. So, the touchpoints on the doll are really important for being able to talk and communicate. The dolls are a great tool because a child could just bring you a doll and show you how they’re feeling. It doesn’t even need to be a verbal communication.
And then the journal is this great piece for reflection. And it has lots of very fun pages that are all surrounded, centered around feelings and emotions. So, “How do we feel about different kinds of weather? And how do I feel about friends? And what do I feel about pizza?” So, there’s a lot of fun pages in it.
And then there’s these kind of daily journal entries. Now, is your preschooler or kindergartner or seven-, eight-year-old going to do a daily journal? Most likely not. We have a lot of things we’re trying to juggle. And it might not be a habit that they’re going to do every day. But the journal is such a great place for drawing pictures about things that happened in their day, being able to put a face on themselves or how they’re feeling, being able to reflect upon maybe something really rough that happened or something exciting and wonderful that happened that day.
And what a great thing to be able to go back and look at your child’s progression. And maybe they start with pictures only; and then maybe your child starts trying to write words. There’s space for words. Or maybe they’re telling you and you’re writing for them. So, it’s this great keepsake. And it’s a great place for our children to start feeling like they are in control of their own emotions; they are in control of what they do with those.
And so being able to express them, there are so many amazing benefits to journaling. And I’m not sure if you want me to get into that right now. But the journal itself has lots of great spaces that are also tied to the dolls. And there are words to grow on. So, for instance, under the Scared Doll, there are words like “anxious”. Or under the Happy Doll, inside the journal, there are words like “merry” and “grateful”.
So, what are words that are really more specific to how our kiddo’s are feeling? That’s another really big part of emotional intelligence, is getting more understanding of other emotions, growing your emotional vocabulary and being able to really put specific words to our feelings. So, the journal has space for that, as well. So, there’s lots of great words to grow on in the journal that go along with these dolls.
Very cool. And I think a lot of us will have experienced moments in time and events where young children are experiencing some of these different emotions and have had conversations about those, too. And that is sort of, I guess, one sort of scenario. Another scenario is maybe some of these bigger feelings that are a little bit more complicated or a little deeper, like maybe a child’s going through anxiety or stress or something like that. How can parents, early-childhood educators help coach and work with children through some of these big feelings?
So, it is inevitable our children are going to have big feelings. And what we know as parents and educators is sometimes those big feelings are behaviors. And they might be behaviors that we don’t really love. But what we need to remember on that is that our kids are learning how to express themselves in a way that is okay. And sometimes it takes expressing ourselves in ways that might not be okay to understand how to get to what is okay.
So, the first thing that I want to say to all of you out there – and I know this is so hard, and I am a parent to a teacher, I know it’s difficult – but bringing your calm when your child is not calm is one of the most important tools that you will need. You have to try your best to have your calm and your patience. You are approaching a child who is feeling worried, feeling anxious, feeling sad, feeling angry. Like, those are those tough emotions.
And you need to approach the situation in a way that you would want someone to approach you. And that’s really hard sometimes because we’re human and we can’t always keep our calm. However, keeping our calm and our patience, the next thing is, just listen. If your child is verbalizing to you and communicating to you, listen. You don’t have to agree or disagree. But what I want you to try and do is just validate that you hear them, okay? So again, that being patient and listening and validating.
Like, “I hear that you’re sad,” or, “I can see that you’re feeling really worried about this right now. And I can understand why.” You’re just letting them know that you hear them and you’re validating. And maybe they don’t have the words to tell you they’re feeling anxious. That’s something you can do to model for them, that that is what they’re feeling. Tell them, “What you’re feeling right now is anxious, okay?” So, it’s okay for you to help label it.
The next thing is that co-regulation that I talked about before. When our kids are young, they really need somebody who’s an adult, or even maybe an older sibling, who can really help them regulate those feelings. So, what I say to parents and educators is, when children are not in these heightened emotions, come up with things, teach them. How do you use your breath? How do you calm down? What do you like to do when you’re feeling tough emotions or you’re feeling very, we call it like, feeling “very high”. So, you’re feeling up there with your emotions. What can you do?
So, helping your child, maybe it’s like just stepping away. Maybe they like to go and grab their FeelLinks doll and give it a hug and a squeeze. Or maybe it’s taking nice, deep breaths and you helping them do that. So again, helping them through that is called co-regulation, which eventually the child will find out how to regulate those emotions for themselves. That takes time and a lot of modeling from you as a parent and a lot of practice.
The next thing I would say is just when things are calm, that’s when you take time to reflect and talk. Your child is not going to be in their thinking brain when they’re totally worried or anxious and their emotions are very high. So, please wait before trying to have a good communication discussion with your child about maybe what they could have done in this situation. So, looking at reflection and problem-solving.
And the last piece of this, and this can be hard sometimes, but we want to move on. We don’t want to continue sitting in that or have our child sitting in that anxiousness or worry or sadness or anger. It’s time to move on. So now, one-on-one time maybe with your child, what are we going to do? Is it a puzzle? Is it writing in our journal? Is it drawing a picture? Is it taking a walk? Like, what comes next? So, that’s kind of what I say is, can we get that kind of routine for ourselves as parents or educators to kind of do? So, calm, listening, validation, regulation and that kind of reflection piece and then moving on.
Super helpful tips, thanks. And before we run out of time here today, just wanted to understand if you have any projects that are kind of coming up with FeelLinks that we didn’t have a chance to cover off here today?
Yeah, so I feel really fortunate and grateful that I have more dolls and more journals on order right now because things are going pretty good, which is fantastic. The journal that is coming my way has a few extra fun things that I have added to it. And then the other thing is, my 11-year-old daughter and I have just written a children’s book about feelings. So, it is tied to the FeelLinks Journal and dolls, kind of in a different way. But that’s really exciting. So, hopefully, that will be coming out in the next couple of months.
And my last thing is, I have freebies that I send out in my weekly newsletters and on my blog. So, those are always kind of fun to see. I’ve got some right now with some just good breathing exercises that you could do with your children. So, [your school’s] principal can put up on the walls and do what you please in your classroom or in your home. So, those are on my website.
Awesome. And while we’re on the subject, what is your website, for folks who want to go check it out?
www.MyFeelLinks.com, awesome. And Marcelle, for our audience and their continued professional development and learning, any resources you might recommend to them?
Absolutely, I have two. The first one is one of my favorite books that I read three times now and take in the weekly book club twice, with Dr. Marc Brackett [the author of the book]. It’s called Permission to Feel [Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive]. I think it is such a well-written book for any parent, educator or human. It’s just very good. Permission To Feel by Marc Brackett.
And the second one is, I just recently took a class from Mona Dellahooke. And she is promoting compassionate, relationship-based interventions for children with developmental, behavioral and emotional learning differences. And she is just so compassionate and so wonderful to listen to. She’s coming out with a new book soon. So, I haven’t read her new book, but she has one book that’s already out and one on its way. So, Mona Delahooke is fantastic. So, those are my two for you.
Cool, thanks so much for sharing those resources with us. And thanks for chatting us more about social-emotional learning, emotional intelligence and FeelLinks. Marcelle Waldman, thanks for joining us on the Preschool Podcast today!
Thank you so much!