7 classroom strategies to support emotional development in children blog header

7 classroom strategies to support emotional development in children

In a recent webinar, we welcomed back Prerna Richards, CEO, and Founder of Together We Grow. Prerna dove into the successes for social-emotional classroom management. She showed us how we can create relationships of the heart, gave us strategies on how to connect with less, and how to manage behavior as a form of communication. Prerna also gave us a key to being a more effective educator! 

Make sure to watch the webinar that inspired this blog post here!


As an educator, it is so important to set your children up for success. In order to do this, you need to first look inwards. What are things that trigger you or your children in the classroom? Do you have routines and schedules in place for the children to follow? Children’s behavior is the information we can use to understand how they are feeling. Behaviour is a symptom and once we understand the cause, then we can start to fix it. There is a difference between reacting and responding. 

Every person has five emotional needs that must be met before they can be in a position to learn and grow. These are:

  • To be seen
  • To be heard 
  • To be loved 
  • To be understood 
  • To belong

Seven effective ways to support children meeting these socio-emotional needs:

1. Emotional banks

Everyone has an emotional bank or bucket. Each day its level of fill changes. When interacting with others, we have a choice to make to be bucket dippers or bucket fillers (either we can make positive contributions through our interactions and communications or make someone feel worse). If the emotional banks of the children are empty, they cannot learn and therefore “act out”. Once the banks are full then we feel good about ourselves and it builds our confidence and self-esteem. As educators, if we can intentionally fill the emotional buckets of our students, they are more likely to develop trusting relationships leading to learning and healthy brain development. Remember, there are no bad children, there are just dysregulated brains.

2. Greeting ritual

A greeting ritual is a great way to recognize when a child who has normally been dysregulated is on task. As their caregiver, replace correcting with recognizing when they are doing great. As an example, go up to a child that is exhibiting positive behavior, pretend to hold a grater and cheese, ‘grate’ the cheese together, and say “Youuurrr great!”. The concept behind this strategy is to catch them doing good versus only redirecting them when they are causing problems or bothering someone else. Letting them be seen and heard by noticing their efforts as they are learning to master self-control impulses makes a big difference.

3. Treasure boxes

This is a great emotional development activity for children! In your classroom, decorate a box, put all of the children’s names/pictures in it and when you are doing circle time, start taking each child’s name from the box. 

Say, ‘insert name’ you are my treasure, it is my job to keep you safe, will you help me keep others safe? Wait for them to say yes or nod in agreement. Explain that a treasure is something that you love and want to keep safe and take care of. Children can learn this and then feel a connection with you through this exercise. This allows childrens’ survival and emotional needs to be met. 

4. Structure choices

As adults, we value choices in our lives. Children are no different. Choices equal voices. One of the needs all humans have is to be heard and feel like they belong. Every time a child can choose something, we are allowing for their voice to be heard. 

Choices equals voices

For example, if children are running down the hallway, we can say you have a choice to walk with the group or by yourself, you do not have a choice to run. They can then make that choice for themselves. Keep in mind, the choices we provide children with must be things we are okay with them doing. They will make a choice and need to see it followed through! 

5. Describe behavior and label it to an emotion

It is very important for children to develop their emotional vocabulary. When you see them exhibiting a behavior, describe what you are physically seeing them doing. For example “your hands are crossed, your face has a scowl, you are stamping your feet, are you angry?”. Ask for clarification on how they are feeling. One reason for asking for clarification is to give them a chance to explain and be heard. The other reason is once they start talking, the intensity of the emotion reduces. Being heard and understood is an emotional need that has to be met for children to learn. 

Avoiding or burying emotions is not helpful, use these challenging behavior episodes as teachable moments and help children to learn to express their emotions with the right vocabulary and coping mechanisms. Intentional deep breathing with your students throughout the day happens to be one of the most effective coping strategies we can teach our children from a young age. 

6. Magical sentence!

During a behavior episode, calm yourself first by taking deep breaths and then use this sentence to help support children’s emotional development. 

I see you, I hear you, I love you but I don’t like what you are doing

Use examples of what you are seeing, hearing, and don’t like to be sure they understand. Separate the behavior from the child by reminding them that you love and care for them, see what they are doing but do not like it. 

7. Attention seeking behavior is a connection seeking need

Any behavior that is attention-seeking (most behaviors are!) is a need for connection. The child is asking for a chance to be heard and seen. Going back to where we started, empty emotional banks will be more common once we come from the connection/relationship angle. We can help children break the cycle for extreme attention-seeking behaviors since their emotional needs are being met more regularly. As caregivers, we need to provide this opportunity with the skills we have learned! 

Additional Resources:

Make sure to watch the webinar that inspired this blog post here!

Want to learn more about important topics in early education like loose parts play? Sign up for the next webinar below, it is FREE! Even if you can’t join live, you will be emailed the recording and slides just for registering!

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