5 Steps to Help Your Child Manage Emotions
5 STEPS TO HELP YOUR CHILD MANAGE EMOTIONS
When parents think about teaching their children social skills, they often focus on skills such as making friends, initiating conversation or playing with others. Although these are important skills, an often neglected skill is emotion management. Children who are unable to effectively manage their emotions may be avoided by peers and excluded from group activities. For that reason, we are presenting a five step plan to teach your child about emotion management.
The first step in emotion management is to learn to identify feelings. If your child is unaware of the feeling he is experiencing and/or cannot label it, it will be more difficult to teach him how to manage it. There are many ways you can teach a child to identify feelings: You can watch a TV show or movie together and talk about the feeling that a character is having; you can talk about your own feelings, e.g. “Today at work I felt angry when my boss said that she did not have time to talk to me”; you can help your child to label her own feelings, e.g. “I saw that you were smiling when you got off the bus today and told me that Sarah sat next to you. It looked as though you were feeling happy”
Once your child has learned to identify feelings, a second step is to teach your child some type of relaxation technique. These techniques can be helpful in addressing a number of emotions including anger and anxiety.
There are a variety of techniques that can be used depending on your child’s characteristics. Some children find yoga to be a useful skill to learn. You may want to enroll your child in a class, purchase a DVD, or watch some videos online to learn more about this. Other children may benefit from a simpler skill such as counting to 10 or taking deep breaths. Some children benefit from learning to use mental imagery, i.e. imagining a calming scene. You can teach your child to imagine the scene by using a variety of sensory descriptors (e.g. for a beach scene you would describe the sound of the waves, the warmth of the sun, the way the sand feels between her toes, etc…). You will want to work on the technique that you have chosen at times
when your child is not feeling anxious or angry so that he can then easily implement it when experiencing some type of emotional distress. You may want to have a verbal or nonverbal cue that you (and your child’s teacher or other caregivers) can use to remind him to use the technique. For example, as you notice your child becoming upset you can say, “DeMarius, how about if you step back and count to ten?”
A third step is to consider using some type of calming activity/device that may also help with sensory issues. Some children like to have a small item to manipulate in their hands such as a stress ball or a fidget. Other children might want to suck on a piece of hard candy.
Additionally, others might benefit from listening to music through headphones. Think about your child and her preferences and come up with an activity/device that will be effective. Once the two of you have decided what would be helpful to keep her calm, you can help her learn to use her calming strategy by reminding her about this when she looks upset. Saying something as simple as “you look anxious, pull out your ball” may help her to get into the habit of using the ball when she feels anxious or upset about something.
Think about environmental issues that may be leading to the emotional reaction your child is having and see if there is a way to modify them. It may be a general issue such as your child not getting enough sleep and then being grouchy and easily angered the next day. You may need to address this by limiting screen time in the evening or implementing other techniques to help your child fall asleep more easily. Helping your child to incorporate exercise into his daily routine can also be a helpful preventive technique. Eating regular meals and snacks may also be helpful. If your child seems to become anxious or upset in specific situations, see if there are ways that you can change the situation or help your child to handle it more effectively. If noisy and crowded situations cause anxiety, the use of noise-canceling headphones may help.
As a final step, consider creating a simple chart or card that your child can use to remind her of the strategies you have developed. For instance, you might want to have a written note she can carry that says, “When I start to feel nervous, I need to squeeze my stress ball and take three deep breaths”. If your child cannot read, you might want a sequence of pictures showing a child with an angry expression, then a picture of the child putting on headphones, and then a picture of a child with a calmer expression. If possible, use actual photos of your child. Another strategy may be to use a traffic light inspired card such as the one shown below, that helps her to identify how she is feeling and what she can do to cope with her feelings.
By implementing this five-step plan, your child will be on her way toward identifying feelings and experiencing success in managing them. This can lead to improved interactions with other children and an ability to engage more successfully in a variety of social activities.
Download a Free Feeling Chart Here—>
Jamie E. Carter, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist. Ahna I. O’Shaughnessy is a psychology associate. They are coauthors of PREP for Social Success: A Guide for Parents of Children with Autism which is a social skills manual available exclusively on Amazon Kindle at amzn.com/B00WQANRI4. You can follow them on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/PREPFORSOCIALSUCCESS and on Twitter @PREP4SocSuccess. They can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Book Shelf Essentials:
- Expressing Feelings: Tips and Tricks for Children and Adults
- What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why Is It so Important?
- Relationship Rescue: Expressing Feelings Appropriately
- My Feelings…
- Teaching Gratitude How to Teach Your Child Thankfulness
- Socialize Successfully: A Few Simple Tips to Help You During the Holiday Season
This post originally appeared on our July/August 2016 Magazine
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