Helping Kids Manage Big Feelings


Picture courtesy of Alicia Lund

Serving to Children Handle Large Emotions


When psychotherapist Annie Armstrong Miyao works with kids, she will get a peek into the untrained, reactive thoughts, the place little discomforts are an enormous deal and absolutely anything is price getting upset over. In her observe, she helps youngsters study to melt up little by little.

What works greatest, Armstrong Miyao affords, is a long-term strategy towards emotional consciousness and resilience. It begins with educating youngsters to establish and discuss what they’re feeling and creating methods they will attain for after they really feel overwhelmed.

However educating youngsters to manage their feelings is gradual work. Armstrong Miyao has three youngsters herself, and a few days of tending to their tears and tempers go extra easily than others. When she’s struggling to seek out methods to assist, Armstrong Miyao falls again on the co-regulation strategies she teaches dad and mom in her psychotherapy observe, which have simply as a lot to do with dad and mom’ personal emotional reactivity as they do their kids’s.

Serving to Children Enhance Consciousness round their Feelings
and Construct Instruments to Self-Regulate

By Annie Armstrong Miyao

My second-grade instructor did not like me. She jogged my memory of an offended owl—with a decent physique, pinched face, and offended eyes that regarded down at me from her desk perch. She would yell at me from throughout the room whereas I daydreamed out the window, and it wasn’t unusual that another person would do one thing and she or he’d use the chance to scold me, Like when my greatest pal tripped three rows of desks away: “See what occurs when your sneakers should not tied, Annie!”

It wasn’t lengthy earlier than I started to get stomachaches on the drive to high school. My mom observed, and she or he consulted with my fantastic pediatrician, who taught me little methods to meditate. When my stomach began to churn, I discovered to excuse myself to the nurse’s workplace and picture I used to be a rag doll, floating on a cloud, slowly enjoyable one a part of my physique after one other till the stomachache receded or I drifted off to sleep.

Whereas I by no means named the emotion that spurred the stomachaches—now I acknowledge it as dread or nervousness—it was understood and tended to by the adults in my life who cared for me.

For higher or worse, kids are current, literal, passionate, spongelike beings. They’ll swing from one huge emotion to a different. They’re nonetheless creating the components of their brains that assist them perceive the trigger and impact. If we, as adults, can decrease our expectations of children’ self-regulation expertise—and remind ourselves that they do not have the life expertise to grasp that the massive feeling will cross—perhaps we will transfer by means of their emotional climate fronts with extra ease.

As a mom, I usually really feel overwhelmed by the tornadoes of emotion that descend from a too-tight sweatshirt, a banana peeled the flawed method, one thing unkind a pal stated at college. I do my greatest to remain centered for my little brood, a port within the emotional storm.

A big a part of my work is to assist my purchasers establish, discover, and course of robust emotions, partially by discovering methods to self-regulate or self-soothe. So once I’m struggling to assist my youngsters handle their feelings, I flip towards some fundamental instruments I take advantage of in my medical psychotherapy observe. The purpose is to not remove our youngsters’ emotions or obtain some sort of everlasting neutrality however to assist them discover methods to look after themselves when their emotions are overwhelming.


1. Figuring out and Speaking Feelings

Studying to call our emotions helps us each higher perceive what we’d like and higher talk these wants with our family members. It may be useful for teenagers to deepen their consciousness of their emotions by figuring out the sensations feelings create of their physique. For youthful youngsters, I draw a giant gingerbread man on a sheet of paper to symbolize the kid, identify a sense, then ask them to choose a colour to symbolize that feeling and colour on the gingerbread man the place they really feel it of their physique. (I supply a listing of 5 huge lessons of emotions: mad, glad, unhappy, afraid, or impartial.)

That is a technique for them to study in regards to the distinctive method they course of their experiences. Though they can not all the time inform us, “I am mad, and I wish to hit one thing,” they may study to acknowledge a cue their physique provides them, like their head and palms get red-hot when they’re mad. So the following time their head and palms get red-hot, it is time to go discover a pillow to punch (as a substitute of hitting you or their sibling).

Within the grip of a giant emotion, kids usually really feel uncontrolled. When they’re within the warmth of the second, attempt to identify what you might be seeing: “You’re so mad; I see you.” I make a degree to assist youngsters establish after they really feel good, calm, excited, joyful, and grateful, too. I attempt to preserve a one-to-one ratio: For each troublesome emotion you discover collectively, establish a pleasing one, too.

2. Exploring Feelings

The extra kids perceive their feelings, the simpler it’s for them to maneuver by means of life feeling them. The following actions are about constructing objectivity and deepening consciousness round feelings.

This exercise asks your little one as an instance in their very own method what an emotion looks like: I draw a grid of eight squares on some paper, cross it off to the kid with some markers, identify a sense, and ask them to attract a picture that displays that feeling in a single sq.. Then we transfer on to the following feeling. Have your personal piece of paper to attract on, too, so while you’ve crammed in all eight squares you possibly can share with one another what your emotions seem like.

The following one is a mindfulness observe to assist youngsters study impermanence. I invite the kid to discover a metaphor that is sensible to them to remind them that emotions come and go. Possibly: “My anger is sort of a huge wave. It crashes down, then it rolls again out to sea.” We draw photos of various emotion waves, we discuss what to do when a giant wave of anger comes, and so forth. This may help them study to tolerate emotions as they arrive and go, trusting that they don’t seem to be going to get caught in any feeling eternally.

As a result of we’re working with youngsters, these actions usually work greatest after they seem like play. So use your creativeness: Have them think about they’re a detective reporting again to you on their anger. When does it come? How do they know their anger has gone? Or ask them to put in writing a narrative the place their pleasure is the principle character. One magical little one and I made a complete comedian e-book collectively, through which every emotion was a superhero who would use their powers to assist remedy the largest problem about being that emotion.

3. Processing Feelings as They Come Up

Generally our youngsters want us to simply take heed to them. Generally they need assistance fixing an issue. And generally they want containment to allow them to really feel the emotion till it goes away.

This is the method I take advantage of to speak to youngsters after they’re within the warmth of a giant feeling. How precisely you go about it’ll depend upon the scenario, the age of the kid, and what you’ve got already discovered works or would not work for them.

1. Validate their feelings. Acknowledge what they’re feeling and why: “I do know you are so upset since you needed a flip to play with the broom.”

2. Give them some perspective and grounding. You are able to do this by saying one thing like, “I do know now you’re feeling like the entire day is ruined. I get it. I additionally know that there’s great things forward, and I do not need you to get caught on this temper and miss out.”

3. Share a plan to assist them include the sensation or transfer by means of it with out shaming them or stifling the sensation. You can attempt one thing like, “This is the plan: I’m going to allow you to be to have all the emotions, and I’ll set a timer for ____ minutes. Then we’re going to shake off this temper.”

4. Observe by means of. In case your plan was to shake off the temper when the timer dings, actually shake it off with them—transfer your our bodies to assist let the emotion transfer.

If in case you have just a little persistent worryer, contemplate giving them a selected time within the day to do their worrying. Remind them that if their fear comes up all through the day they will inform themselves, “Now just isn’t the time to fret about this; I’ll fear about it at 4 o’clock.” When 4 o’clock comes, give them your consideration in the event that they wish to vent about their worries, or perhaps they wish to journal or draw about them. Be constant, hear, and examine in on the finish of the time to see how they really feel. You can begin by asking in the event that they really feel higher, worse, or the identical.

When the kid has recentered after no matter huge emotion you are working with, assist them discover that one thing has modified. Encourage them to be inquisitive about what made a distinction. For older youngsters: “Are you feeling unhappy anymore? What do you suppose shifted?” For youthful youngsters, you possibly can replicate what you see. It would not have to be a giant to-do, only a easy “I observed that you just aren’t upset anymore. Did your physique regulate to the brand new feeling of that sweatshirt?”

4. Self-Soothing and Co-Regulating

Top-of-the-line methods to show self-regulation is to mannequin it your self. So: Take a break if you should. Let the kid know what you might be doing: “I’m overwhelmed and want a second—I shall be again in two minutes.” Find out about the way you categorical emotions and the way you are inclined to your self while you really feel overwhelmed by emotion. What was modeled for you? What has formed your concepts about what is suitable in the case of expressing feelings?

As you fine-tune your personal potential to self-regulate, so does your little one. Co-regulation is the supportive course of between caregiver and little one through which the kid finds security, calm, and love inside the relationship. It is an ongoing course of that takes place at numerous developmental levels. When our kids discover themselves in an area that’s past their capability, their temper, sense of safety, and sense of calm can align with yours, identical to they did after they have been infants. They’ll reset with you each emotionally and physiologically. Maintain them in your arms; take deep breaths in union; think about you might be floating on a cloud as you lie collectively on the sofa.

When the massive emotions have entered next-level reactivity, educate them to concentrate on their senses. Get outdoors, hear for the birds, rely the flowers on that bush, really feel the grime between your toes, take a shower, drink a glass of water, or put some cool water on their little face. I assist my purchasers establish a spot that’s calm and protected. We observe envisioning it in our thoughts’s eye—what it appears to be like, smells, feels, and seems like—to allow them to go to it of their thoughts after they’re feeling overwhelmed.

Principally, supply love. I like my youngsters of their battle, and I like myself in my very own. One of many major objectives of parenting is being an area that our kids can return to because the storm passes.

Annie Armstrong Miyao is a Los Angeles–based mostly psychotherapist, author, and mom of three.

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