As an early childhood educator and a mother of two, author Sandye Zdanwic knows it can be difficult for young children to understand exactly how they’re feeling, much less how to express it.
Young children feel the same complex emotions — like frustration, disappointment, anger or sadness — adults do, but they might not have the vocabulary to understand what they feel and why, Zdanwic said.
“My 2-year-old, she understands the difference between being frustrated and being mad,” Zdanwic said. “She’s also able to say, ‘What can you do when you’re frustrated?’ She can go through the steps of ‘I can breathe or ‘I just need a minute to calm my body down.’ We work on that language a lot.”
She said she wanted other children and their parents to have the same tools to manage emotions. With her 10 years of experience working with children and four years as an early childhood educator, she decided to write her book, “Little Humans, Big Feelings”.
“We’re really big on reading literacy and books that are plain language and teach something, but also portray them — my children are biracial — in everyday scenarios,” she said. “It was difficult to (find books) that talk about social-emotional learning with lots of children of color that weren’t specific to ethnic foods or holidays. We just wanted regular books that depicted all children.”
The book is also written to help children with autism and other social developmental delays understand their emotions and the emotions of others.
“You hear a lot of parents say, “Well, the language barrier… it’s not natural language, but we’ve been doing it for so long that it becomes natural,’” Zdanwic said. “It really simplifies emotional language to put it where anybody — parents, counselors, early childhood educators — can use it. It’s not something above (the children’s) heads.”
It’s important for children to start developing their social-emotional skills at a young age because it’s a skill they need their whole lives and can prevent debilitating behavioral problems, Zdanwic said.
“If they can’t ask their teacher in kindergarten, if they can’t say, ‘This is bothering me and that’s why I can’t get my work done’ and ask for help rather than throwing a fit,” Zdanwic said. “Then in middle school or earlier, they know how to be OK with how they’re feeling and have the skills to not act out of anger.”
She said learning to manage feelings earlier can carry into adulthood and curb emotional outbursts, like road rage.
“Little Humans, Big Feelings” is available through Amazon, Walmart and Barnes & Noble. Libraries at Chapel Hill Academy, Lena Pope Early Learning centers, East Dallas Developmental Center and Sarasota ISD schools in Florida. She hopes to see her books in Fort Worth and Arlington libraries and the local school districts soon. The book has a Facebook group as well.
Jennifer Carpenter, Lena Pope’s director of early learning programs, said children responded really well to Zdanwic’s book, its illustrations and simple language.
“It’s just one way to emphasize what we’re teaching in the classroom,” Carpenter said. “We follow up with the book and they can make the connection like ‘I remember we talked about this earlier today.’ And of course the fact there’s so much diversity in the book is also amazing.”
She has plans for more children’s books that teach social-emotional learning through counting and the ABCs. As she did with her first book, she’ll publish them through her own company, Intrinsic Ink Publishing.
The publishing company came from a need for more diverse authors who might not have an established platform, Zdanwic said.
“With a traditional publishing company, sometimes it can be on the back-burner because they’re trying for something that’s more popular,” she said. “Social-emotional learning is something that’s been around forever, but it’s not a trendy thing.”
She created Intrinsic as a way to diversify publishing, providing more authors who are not necessarily mainstream with more opportunities, she said.
“I’m trying to hone in on that early childhood where we can build vocabulary, language and still focus on including everyone,” Zdanwic said. “I wanted a platform to publish books that would help early childhood educators.”
Brooke Colombo is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by grants from the Amon G. Carter and Sid W. Richardson foundations. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.