Long before singing ABCs and counting 123s, we marvel at the magical world of emotions. Teaching our kids coping strategies at a young age can directly support resilience, stress management, and other habits that will support healthy relationship-building. Below are some tips for teaching coping skills (spoiler alert- you're likely already doing some of these).
All social emotional learning begins with the foundation of self- what are our needs, how do we show that we have needs and project empathy for others' needs too? Being self-aware means that we encourage our children to reflect on their emotional reactions and responses. We can help develop this habit, by consistently labeling and asking reflective questions when our little ones are upset.
But don't go anywhere, because as adults, we need to unlearn our own habits of burying our emotions in order to cater to the needs or comfort of others. I challenge you to embark on a self-exploration to familiarize yourself with your own triggers so that we can find a way to get grounded in order to show up regulated for our little ones. When our child's dysregulated nervous system is countered by our calm one, we unlock the ultimate achievement of supporting our children through their big emotions.
We've all been there: A child's tone is a little spicy and we're already on our last nerve of the day, fresh out of caffeine and ready to launch. A stern word, flailing arms and a contest to see who can talk louder breaks out and you just know that you're on the path to nowhere productive.
Holding, reassuring, hugging or singing for your child or group of children are some basic co-regulation strategies that you are likely already implementing. It a) models what a regulated nervous system looks and sounds like and sets that as a baseline while b) reassuring our children that they are validated in their experiences and not alone in navigating the storm.
But Danielle, how do I buy myself some time to get grounded, before I help my child?
It can be as simple as telling them.
"Mommy's feelings are too noisy right now and I need to take some deep breaths to calm down before I can be the listener that you deserve."
"Class, I'm feeling hurt that no one has been listening but am wondering if that is your brain's way of telling me that you need a break. I'm going to have some water and look at pictures of my dog and then we'll figure out what to do next."
Co-create a safe place such as a calm corner where your child can go when they need space to work out their feelings. Be proactive and have a basket of regulating tools or crafts for time away from home as well.
But perhaps most importantly, be vulnerable. Your children won't want to share their bad days if you never let them in on challenges that you face. They won't feel empowered to make decisions to overcome difficult scenarios, if they haven't witnessed you try (perhaps fail) and try again. One way to do this, is through a dynamic visual such as the one below, that eliminates the stigma of talking about our mental health.
Listen, the only time I drag my tushy to the nail salon, is for the massage chairs and to award myself with a pizza slice immediately following the excruciatingly long dry period. Self-care looks different for everyone, and can look different for one individual, depending on the day and need. My whole teaching career I had equated silence with peace, as I always had to sit away from the crowds and book a private room at my university library in order to get anything done. It took a 7-year-old to fact check me when I gave him soothing music and he came back more escalated than ever- it turns out it takes hard rock and high octane to help him be his most productive. Rock on.
Giving choices flows organically with the last step- let me show you what I mean:
"Mommy's feelings are feeling noisy right now and I need to take some deep breaths to calm down before I can be the listener that you deserve. Would you like to do rainbow breaths or sloth breaths with me?"
"Class, I'm feeling hurt that no one has been listening but am wondering if that is your brain's way of telling me that you need a break. I'm going to have some water and look at pictures of my dog and then we'll figure out what to do next. You can choose to look at pictures with me or draw at your desk."
Supporting Children With Anxiety