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Wisconsin Department of Health Services: OCMH creates early childhood feelings thermometer 

Child care providers and early childhood educators increasingly report seeing challenging behaviors and big feelings among the children in their care. To help, the Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health (OCMH) adapted its popular Feelings Thermometer to offer calming strategies for pre-school aged children.

The Early Childhood Feelings Thermometer is a visual aid for child care providers, early childhood educators, and families to use with young children, ages 0 to 5, to help them begin naming emotions. Research shows the act of identifying and naming feelings can reduce the intensity of those emotions.

“We know children are struggling with their emotions and acting out in many care settings. We also know that with their behaviors children are communicating how they feel.” said OCMH Director Linda Hall.“ I often hear how challenging behaviors are interrupting learning time, especially since the pandemic. Children who can regulate their emotions are better able to make friends and learn. Helping children manage their feelings is a first step forward.”

The thermometer features five zones. It starts at green – the calm zone – listing feelings and behaviors associated with that zone and goes up to red – the furious zone – with suggestions to help the child in the moment. Studies show that identifying an activity and helping young children be aware of their feelings is an important step. Offering them choices like jumping jacks, belly breathing, wiggle dancing, or drawing can make a difference in the body as well as helping to shift moods and learning to manage their emotions.

Accompanying the thermometer is a simplified gauge with emoji faces ranging from happy to mad which the child can point to and communicate how they are feeling.

OCMH is making the Early Childhood Feelings Thermometer available on its website in English, Spanish, and Hmong. And over the next few months, will also distribute materials to Wisconsin regulated child care facilities via Child Care Resource and Referral agencies (CCR&Rs). Included in these materials will be self-care information for child care staff and additional information to share with area child care facilities.

“The importance of supporting our child care workforce cannot be overstated. With challenging behaviors abounding and a critical child care workforce shortage, we need to give caregivers real-time help.” said Director Hall. “Our hope is that all caregivers – parents, child care providers, educators, relatives, supportive adults – and all children begin the simple act of identifying their emotions and make it a habit. This is something each one of us can do today. We can start now to improve not only children’s mental health, but our own mental health.”

OCMH partners in the development and distribution of the new Early Childhood Feelings Thermometer include Supporting Families Together Association, the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board, and the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.

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