It’s finally the weekend and you have a ton of errands to do. You are so excited to be doing them alone while your child is at a friend’s house for a play-date. Your child comes skipping and humming into the kitchen with the biggest smile you have seen in a while. His eyes bright as they meet yours. “Today is the day, right mom?” “Yes, Zac, I am dropping you off at Jack’s house at 1:00 today.” “YAY!!!!” screams your child who is overcome with joy.
Then…….the dreaded phone call. Jack is sick and the play date is cancelled. You already know how this is going to play out. Zac does not handle change of plans well. He does not handle disappointment well. He doesn’t handle anything that doesn’t go his way well. You feel a wave of nausea as you think about how to tell Zac that the play date is cancelled. You take a deep breath, count to 10 and head down to his room.
“NOOOOOOO,” he screamed as the tears poured down his face. “I hate you!” Among the yelling and crying, Zac began throwing toys left and right. Whatever was in his reach. You try to duck out of the line of fire as you reached for him and hold him in a tight bear hug. This is the only thing that works when things get this bad.
Can you relate?
Does your child have difficulty regulating emotions?
Are you ready to learn how to break this cycle of behavior?
Great…. I have the answers! As a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, I first like to help children notice and label their thoughts and feelings. Next, I teach them to change their negative thinking patterns so that they can learn to feel better and manage their behaviors more easily. Parents and children love this approach because it is straightforward, hands-on, and effective. Here are my 5 favorite strategies…..
1. Four Square Breathing Technique
This is an amazing exercise that helps to calm down our Central Nervous System. Have your child sit comfortable. Next, ask them to slowly breathe in for the count of 4. Hold that breath for a count of 4, slowly exhale to the count of 4, then rest for the count of 4. Repeat 4 times. This helps teach your child to slowly take breaths that will help them to calm down. I always have the child practice this breathing throughout the day, while calm. Also, as they are laying in bed before they fall asleep. (A great way to calm their body so they sleep better!)
2. Nonverbal Charades
This is classic game of charades with a twist! Help your child identify feelings and emotions. This is a great game that the whole family can play! Make a list of feelings and emotions. Take turns “acting” out the feeling with facial expressions and body language, but without talking. You can also make some “situation” cards. Make up scenarios and have your child guess what feeling/emotion the person in that situation may be feeling. For example,” Johnny was eating alone in the cafeteria. How do you think Johnny might be feeling.”
3. Feelings Board
This is a great craft that you can do with your child. I use a tri-fold board. One section is labeled “Warning Signs” which indicates where in your child’s body they are feeling the emotion. Have your child identify his/her feeling or emotion by placing an X on the body cutout where they are feeling the negative emotion in their body. The center of the board is labeled “”I Feel” which allows them to identify the emotion they are feeling. I use emoji faces they can choose from. The third section is labeled, “I Will” which is what they will do to calm themselves. Invite your child to think of some calming techniques along with you. Then make cut out pictures if those strategies, such as: watch a funny video, quiet time in room, count to 10, kick a ball in the backyard, talk to an adult. All cards are laminated and backed with Velcro for easy placement and removal.
4. Coping Box
Engage your child to think of things to calm them down and make them feel good. Make a list of these things to use in the coping box. I like this because your child can take a “time out” in a quiet space and bring the box with them. I buy the inexpensive photo boxes from the craft store. You can buy them already decorated or a plain one that your child can decorate. In it, I have index cards with ideas that you and your child wrote down ahead of time, that will act as reminders of what to do to calm down. For example, do the 4 square breathing, jump rope, color, draw… When possible, place some items in the box so they are handy. I like to place paper, crayons, coloring book, journal, PlayDoh, etc. in the box.
5. Positive Reward System
Focus on the positive, rather than the negative. Give positive praise to your child when they identify their feelings and use positive coping strategies. Many people give negative consequences (punishments, take things away) for non-desired behaviors. The goal is to shape the desired behaviors and extinguish the negative. Immediate verbal praise is worth its weight in gold! You may also choose to give your child a small daily reward such as going for a bike ride or special treat. At the end of the week, if your child has been consistent with identifying emotions and using positive coping strategies 80% of the time, (or a predetermined percent of the time. Make sure it is attainable in the beginning so they “buy in” to the reward system before slowly increasing the percentage.) you may choose s slightly larger reward, such as 15 minute extended bedtime, choosing family game night, a movie night, or a play-date. If you choose to do this, make a visual behavior chart for your child. Have him/her assist you by putting checks marks, stickers or smiley faces on the chart for the desired behaviors.
These are the exact strategies I teach to my young clients and parents all the time! Change takes time, so be consistent and have FUN in the process!!!