In addition to being a part time blogger and busy mama of 3, I am also a child and adolescent therapist. Being a child and adolescent therapist has given me a unique perspective on parenting. My children would say that having a therapist as a mother means having a mom who "always likes to talk about feelings!" It should be noted that this statement is not said with excitement, but is usually followed by a sigh. Ah, kids!
We do, in fact, talk about "Big" feelings a lot. Especially since my oldest son has his fair share of challenges regulating and verbalizing his emotions. We often talk about healthy options to express emotions. This also means we do a lot of activities and have a lot of reminders of those options around the house. The C.A.L.M chart is one of my favorite reminders. When feelings are on the verge of getting too big to handle, I point to the C.A.L.M chart as a reminder, and suggest trying one or all the tips.
- Center yourself . This involves participating in a relaxation activity. The child can take a break - walk away from the source of frustration and engage in a calming activity; have a bit of cuddle time with mom or dad; or go for a walk. Another potential option is belly breathing (deep breathing) by breathing in through the nose, picturing the breath traveling down the body and filling up the belly, holding for a count of 5, and breathing out through the mouth while picturing the worry/frustration leaving the body. Progressive muscle relaxation is also another fun way to calm the body. Look up videos on YouTube as a guide. Kids love it!
- Activity! Big emotions often come with an overabundance of energy. Getting some of that energy out can help re-center the body and mind. Take a run outside, dance, play a sport, go swimming, do jumping jacks, play tag - anything that involves movement.
- Logical thinking. This is one of the harder suggestions for kids to do on their own, but it's also very effective. Often times when emotions get too big, they are accompanied by "worst case scenario" thoughts. Encourage your child to challenge these thoughts by helping them identify what is true, instead of what might happen. For example, if your child is getting anxious about attending a social event and is fearing that no one will talk to him/her, remind your child that he/she has several friends who will be at the event, and that he/she has always made friends easily.
- Mindful Memory. Have your child recall a positive and happy memory. Encourage your child to identify two characteristics of that memory for each of the 5 senses. Two things that he/she saw; two things he/she heard; two things he/she touched; two things he/she tasted; and two things he/she smelled. This will allow the child to re-create the full experience of the memory. and the joy and happiness experienced during the event will translate to the present.
One of the key components of developing healthy coping skills is practice. Practice makes perfect! I equate this to extracurricular activities such as dance or sports to make the concept relatable to kids. Very few people can just walk out to the field (or court or dance floor) and execute a flawless performance. Frequent practice is often crucial to performing at the event. Much like dance or sports, it is difficult to implement coping skills during the height of frustration/anxiety/sadness, if you haven't prepared your mind and body with plenty of practice .I suggest setting aside 10 or 15 minutes each day to practice coping skills with your child. Remember, being able to manage big emotions won't come over night for your child, it takes time and patience before positive coping skills become habit. Set reasonable expectations for yourself and your child. The complete elimination of big feelings isn't realistic, but becoming better equipped to manage them is something most children can achieve with your support!