Emotion-Focused Teaching in Early Childhood Education Mealtime Contexts



Gregory Casey, Emma

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Preschool mealtimes may be an overlooked context and an underutilized opportunity for teachers to support the development of children’s social–emotional competence and healthy eating habits. Emotion-focused teaching—how teachers model their own emotions, respond to children’s emotions and instruct about emotions—and responsive feeding practices—provider behaviors and mealtime environments that support healthy eating behaviors— can be both be employed during mealtimes to support these learning outcomes, but guidance for teachers during mealtimes is limited. guidance The purpose of this study is to understand how these practices are employed (or not employed) at mealtimes, and the relationship between them. Mealtime video footage (n=107) from 17 preschool classrooms were assessed using observational tools including the EMOtion TEaching Rating Scale (EMOTERS) to measure emotion-focused teaching, and the Mealtime Observation Childcare Checklist (MOCC) to measure adherence to recommended feeding practices. Additionally, this study identifies aspects of mealtimes that challenge, support, or provide opportunities for emotion-focused teaching. Emotion-focused teaching scores during mealtimes are low to moderate and instructing practices are rarely used. Responsive feeding scores were also low , and few mealtimes were observed to have indicators of family-style meal service. There was a significant, albeit weak, negative association between total MOCC and EMOTERS scores as well as between the Sensory Exploration subscale of the MOCC and the Modeling domain of the EMOTERS. However, given the limitations of this study, these findings do not support the hypothesis that there are clear relationships between emotion-teaching scores and responsive feeding practices or indicators of family-style meal service. An analysis of mealtime events and interactions (e.g., spills) demonstrate that mealtimes present several challenges to emotion-focused teaching, but also offer many opportunities to use such practices. Opportunities include: avoiding negativity when responding to spills; making space for playfulness and sensory exploration of food; handling misbehavior by explaining how it affects others, and addressing underlying emotions; creating and leveraging personal conversations as an opportunity for emotion-focused teaching; using emotionally-supportive strategies to encourage eating; and sitting and engaging with children at the table.



Mealtime, Feeding, Preschool, Teaching, Emotion-focused teaching, Social-emotional learning