Our children are growing every day. They are not just growing taller—they are also growing in their understanding of the world and in their ability to interact with it in a meaningful way. God created our children as emotional creatures—they respond emotionally to the world around them. We can observe these emotions in our children from very young ages. Babies scream when their world is unpleasant—when their diapers are wet, or their bellies are hurting. Toddlers sometimes display their temper when something doesn’t go their way. It’s important for our children to grow in their ability to express and manage their own emotions and empathize with others. They won’t be able to function well as adults if they don’t learn these skills. As homeschool parents, we get to encourage and observe this emotional growth.
Much of our children’s emotional growth occurs before they even start school. But our older children still need help growing in their ability to be aware of and empathize with the emotions of others and managing and expressing their own emotions. Here are a few practical ideas to help you develop these social, emotional skills in your children throughout the homeschool day.
1. Incorporate Role Play
Role play can be a powerful tool to help your child learn to empathize with others and think through complex situations. I’ve used role play several times while teaching reading. For example, the 3rd edition of Reading 4 includes the book Shooting at the Stars, which tells the story of the Christmas Day Truce of 1914. Part of the assignment for that selection includes a role play—where the student pretends to be the main character in the book and writes a letter home about the Christmas Truce. The assignment encourages students to think about all the emotions a soldier would have experienced that day.
You can also incorporate role play into your heritage studies lessons. Have your child think about what it would be like if Dad lost his job during the Great Depression or if your family immigrated to the United States during the early 1900s. Thinking through the complexity of these time periods will help your child be more aware of the emotions individuals experienced at the time and will help them recognize those same emotions in others.
2. Practice Journaling
Journaling is beneficial for many different reasons. It helps your children learn to reflect on their world and gives them a chance to sort through their emotions and learn to express them. But journals can be more than just extended day planners. You can incorporate them into many different courses. Use them in Bible class to record responses to God’s Word. Use them in science to make observations about changes in nature. You can also use them in heritage studies to thoughtfully reflect on current events. The discipline of writing a response after reflection will go a long way in teaching your children to control their emotions.
3. Teach Coping Strategies
School itself can be emotionally stressful for many young children. Schoolwork often overwhelms one of my daughters. Double-digit multiplication was so overwhelming to her on the day we introduced it that she broke down in tears more than once. In times like these, we, as homeschool parents, need to help our children by teaching them how to cope when they feel overwhelmed. Teach them how to break up an overwhelming task into manageable chunks. Teach them test-taking strategies, such as how to answer the “easy” questions on a test first before getting stuck on the ones they find more difficult. And teaching them how practicing a speech or music performance can help calm pre-performance jitters. This kind of guidance will not only make school less stressful but will also help our children learn to manage the emotional stresses that they encounter in life.
The emotional growth and development of our children is an important part of their growing up, and it can’t be overlooked. Since we are with them all day, we get to experience all the emotions—the moments of tears and anger as well as the moments of insensitivity and unkindness. But praise the Lord for those moments—they are opportunities for us, as both a parent and teacher, to help our children grow into emotional maturity.