In our family, we don’t celebrate halloween but I love the idea of using pumpkins for something beyond cooking. H doesn’t yet have the fine motor control to carve intricate designs (I’m not sure that I do either) but I feel like pumpkins make a good canvas, so to speak. On our trip to Cobb’s Corn Maze, we got a really cool no-carve decorating kit that reminded me of Mr. Potato Head. It contained different facial features that could be pierced into the pumpkin and make faces. I thought this would be a good opportunity to explore and discuss various emotions.
I complimented the opportunity by adding a mirror and asking H to look at her own face. We practiced expressions like happy, sad, angry, and scared, talking about things that made us feel that way. We sometimes replicated these feelings on her pumpkin and then experimented with Mr. Potato Head. She really enjoyed this experience but I wish I would have added a book about feelings- something that could go deeper than these four basic emotions. Having the proper comprehension and vocabulary surrounding expressing one’s self is a lifelong gift that can greatly enhance the quality of relationships.
Adding in the mirror also adds an interesting aspect – children can start to notice the way their facial features change when they experience different emotions and then eventually start reflecting these changes in visual representations, depictions and artwork. They can also start to interpret what these changes in other people’s faces signify, leading to socioemotional growth.
Years ago I had a mentor who employed a strategy that I loved and adopted. When a child does something to hurt another child (alternatively, it can be used when they have caused any emotion, including a positive one), draw the child’s attention to the other child’s face. It can be quite powerful for a child to really notice and internalize another person’s emotions.
Annie and David are playing with the blocks. David is carefully building a tower and Annie decides to knock it over. David starts to cry. Instead of telling Annie to “say sorry” to David, ask her to look at David’s face. How does his face look? Get her to notice, acknowledge and assign meaning to that facial expression. And then continue to use questions to prompt an appropriate reaction. So if Annie acknowledges that David looks sad, you can continue to ask her why David might feel sad. After she responds, ask her what she could do to make David feel better? If she says something like “say sorry,” “give him a hug,” “help him re-build his tower” ask David what he thinks about those ideas and go with a course of action that both children agree to.
This strategy puts us adults in a facilitative role while equiping children with the skills and tools they will need to grow to independently resolve their own conflicts.