Teaching Teachers to Help Children Manage Emotions

By Betsy Leutz and Mary Watson Avery

According to a study published in Early Education and Development and reviewed on Psych Central, 24 student teachers who had reported using (effective) strategies for regulating their own emotions as well as more accepting beliefs about children’s emotions, appeared, according to observers, to be more supportive of children’s emotions in the classroom.

Betsy Leutz

These results are not surprising. The concept that an adult’s ability to understand and regulate emotions is linked to how he or she understands and goes about helping children manage their emotions is far from new. Researchers and educational leaders, particularly those specializing in the early childhood years, have increasingly over the past two decades come to understand that teaching teachers and other adult caregivers about emotional regulation, including effective strategies for managing strong emotions (not to be mistaken for suppressing emotion), is a critical foundation to children’s learning and academic success. In his opening remarks to the conference, Reinventing University/College-Based Teacher Education with Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) at the Forefront , held at Wheelock College on June 12, 2012, Massachusetts Secretary of Education, Paul Reville, captured the critical link between academic learning and emotional well-being when he cautioned not to, “polarize academic success and social emotional health.”

Several approaches, developed by behavioral health, psychology and early childhood researchers and practitioners, are currently being used in the professional preparation of teachers in the early childhood years and increasingly understood to be important for teachers in later school years. These approaches include: fostering emotional literacy – the ability to understand, identify and respond to emotions in oneself and others; understanding the relationship between communication/communicative intent and behavior; and the central importance of building, cultivating and sustaining supportive relationships between students and teachers.

When our lens is focused on the whole child, the importance of emotional regulation to learning takes its place as a central component of curriculum for learners of all ages, no matter what the subject. For teachers, this means accepting a dynamic role in supporting children’s social and emotional development. Feeling prepared to respond to the emotions of children then becomes, not so much about what to say when a student expresses strong emotions, as how to be with students . This change in frame also allows us to shift the focus from how a teacher reacts to a student at any given moment and to re-focus on building student success in all skill areas: academic, social, and emotional regulation and resilience.


This post was written in response to “Teachers Need More Training to Handle Children’s Emotions”, a  study  published in  Early Education and Development.


Betsy Leutz is the Director of Connected Beginnings Training Institute at Wheelock College. She has over than 35 years experience in infant and early childhood development and service delivery and has held key organizational leadership roles in the field. Throughout a career in infant and early childhood health and development, Betsy has focused on bringing an interdisciplinary understanding of infant and early childhood theory to professional practice.


Mary Watson Avery, manages professional development and training activities at Connected Beginnings Training Institute. Her career has focused on infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their families. Her special interests include the professional development of individuals working with families; the play of typical and traumatized children; therapeutic parent education; and the mentoring of early childhood trainers. She has been a teacher, administrator and consultant in several urban early childhood programs in New York City and the greater Boston area.