"Help! How do I deal with the outbursts of anger, and the floods of tears?"
"My child is super angry and is lashing out at me, and her friends"
"He's nine years old, and he can't control himself - what do I do?"
"She's really scared, but if we talk about it, aren't we just making the worry bigger?"
"If I don't punish him when he loses it, aren't I just making problems for myself"
One of the questions I have really regularly is to do with managing emotions. At the moment, I'm preparing a themed workshop on emotions, and so I've been doing my research! I thought I'd share some of my learnings with you, along with some Positive Discipline tools to help with managing emotions and kids' responses to it.
First of all: five facts, then five tips for you to put in place..
Fact 1: An emotion is not a feeling. An emotion is very a short, instinctive response to something happening in the world around us
Fact 2: Emotions are neither good nor bad, intrinsically. They are a signal to us to bring about change. The clue is in the word, 'motion.' Historically (yes, I'm talking pre-historic) our bodies needed big clues to help us survive. So fear is an emotion to help us move away from danger, joy brings us together in community, sadness can show others we have a need, etc.
Fact 3: Acknowledging our emotions is a good thing. Bryson/Siegel (see below for references) talk about 'name it to tame it'. Once we name an emotion, we start to tell a story, and we can tell our brain we don't need that big survival clue, we can calm down (there's no Mammoth!)
Fact 4: "Children do better when they feel better" (Jane Nelsen). When we are in a stressful situation, we can't access the rational part of our brain, all we can think about is fight, flight or freeze. When our pre-frontal cortex is re-connected, then we can start to problem solve.
Fact 5: Children 5 and under mostly aren't using their pre-frontal cortex to rationalise, they're living their life out of their feelings and emotions. Our logical analysis skils kick in around 5 or 6. You can watch these experiments by Jean Piaget to understand more.
Now for some tips and tools - as you can see, they're all about prevention, and building connection with your child.. And you'll find some of them are the same as my favourite Positive Discipline tools, unsurprisingly!
Tip 1: Sit down with your child and develop their vocabulary around emotions. In workshops with both parents and in schools, I lead an activity called the Emotions quadrant. We divide a flipchart into 4 sections, and brainstorm for vocabulary linked to that feeling. When I give my child more words to explain their feelings, I'm helping them to express themself and self-regulate. We also have the 'Feeling Faces' poster pinned up at home, which we grab when one of us can't work out how we're feeling.
Tip 2: Teach your child about their brain, and what happens when they're feeling stressed. Watch one of these videos to help you all understand about that disconnect..
Tip 3: Build a feel better space/wheel of choice together..
When we are feeling a big emotion, we can't act rationally, so first we need to re-connect.
With younger children, a physical space (or a cardboard box) for when they need to feel better is really helpful. In our feel better box, there are felt tips, paper, a bouncy ball, a soft toy, and pictures of basic emotions (placing the 'angry' one right in front of my nose is often all it takes to help my youngest feel better!)
With older ones, a wheel of choice for feeling better is wonderful. Here's our family's version. We got the wheel itself from IKEA, but you can just have a piece of paper. One morning when my two youngest were having an argument (and I'd lost my cool with them!), they each went off to spin the wheel without any prompting from me. A few minutes later, I came back downstairs to find them happily dancing to music!
Once we are feeling better, then we can do better, so...
Tip 4: Fix it! Now is the time for saying sorry, and then brainstorm for solutions about what we can all do differently next time
Tip 5: Delve Deeper! If you identified with the parents above and are struggling, come along to my Parenting Workshops to understand the link between your own emotions and your child's misbeliefs (about power, attention, revenge and capability), and how, by fixing their mistaken beliefs, we can bring about a long-term change in behaviour.
NB: I'd encourage you to read around the science if you find this topic interesting, my 'facts' are based on my own best understanding of what I've read and listened to. I've been reading Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson's Whole Brain Child and listening to the On Arrive podcast (that one's in French) to help deepen my understanding. Or if you'd like something for your kids to watch, have a look at the 'C'est Pas Sorcier' episode on emotions..