1. Take Care of the Feelings
It’s important to help kids know that all feelings are okay to feel- especially the hard ones like fear, anger, sadness, and frustration. Connecting and validating your child’s feelings allows for a more open pathway to helping the child learn emotional regulation from you, their parent who loves them unconditionally. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s book, The Whole Brain Child gives parents easy to understand brain science based strategies for developing healthy emotionally balanced brains which leads to healthy better balanced daily lives. Sometimes, just sitting with your child during their struggle is what the child needs the most. Especially, if the child is in full blow meltdown mode, then refrain from using “talk” problem solving strategies until the storm has passed because their ability to logically process is not available to them until the brain resets from the emotional stressor. Siegel refers to this as connecting right brain to right brain to provide support and understanding of the child’s feelings.
Once there is a state of calm, move on to simple connection sentences that fit the situation. An example could be, “It makes you mad when math doesn’t make sense,” or, “Subtraction can be confusing.” Now, it can be hard at times to validate feelings when the stressor makes no sense to us as the parent. For example, the child who is crying and upset because they can’t draw a tree for each season showing what it would look like in that season. Yes, this is a real homework dilemma. So what’s a parent to do? Identify and validate the feelings, make the connection to the right side of the brain that deals with emotions/creativity/experiences because once the right side calms down then it’s ready to play with the left side brain of logic. “This assignment is really hard for you. It’s frustrating that the trees don’t look like you want them to look. Tell me how you would like it to be.” And wait for the child to lead on what to do next.
2. Create Positive Problem Solving Pathways
Once, the emotional flood of the stress inducing crisis subsides it’s important to teach your child different ways of viewing difficulties in school. Set aside a few minutes each day to practice one of these activities to build up confidence and understanding.
- Rose, Bud, Thorn is a game to review the day in short sentences using a rose as a metaphor for feelings and events of the day. The Rose is something good that happened today, the Thorn is something yucky, and the Bud is something to look forward to tomorrow. Notice the Thorn is sandwiched between the Rose and the Bud because that ends the activity on a positive note. Use a visual of a real or silk rose, bud and thorn for kids to hold so they can feel and see how petals look, thorns feel and buds are getting ready to bloom. Or go outside to look at real roses, thorns and buds.
- Rate the Day is for ages 6 and up. This game builds an understanding that each day is different and some parts of a day may be better than other parts which instills hope that things can get better. Use a hand drawn number line 0-10 on a piece of paper. Explain the scale that a 0 day is an awful, no good very bad day while a 5 day is okay nothing terrible is happening but there’s also nothing wonderfully wonderful and if a day is a 10 then it is pretty awesome spectacular kind of day. Have the kids draw feeling faces to go with the numbers. This activity can be adapted to a shorter scale or just feeling faces.
- Positive Talk, Leads to Positive Thought is a sentence replacement strategy that helps kids turn negative self-talk into more positive self-affirming statements. Kids needs to learn how to not let a passing feeling become a permanent self-identifier. So, if the words, “I am so dumb” come out of your child’s mouth then it is time to stop and help them find new positive words. “I am stupid” can become, “I feel stupid when I can’t spell the words right but I am working hard in spelling,” Or, “I just can’t do this. It is too hard,” can become, “I can learn to do this. It just takes time to learn. I am learning how to ____. It will get better,” Write replacements statements down to reference- colorful index cards work great. Make it fun. Keep it positive, keep it short.
3. Develop Emotional Understanding Through Books
Children’s literature is a natural place to find characters who children relate to in familiar situations like school, home and friendships. Now, some of the characters might not be human, but kids really do not care if it’s a happy pig or sad bunny or even a silly dinosaur. Kids are looking for shared common experiences in stories. Listed below are four books that can be helpful for stressed out kids:
Wilma Jean does worry and stress about everything at school. Julia Cook writes awesome stories for kids, parents and educators to help children develop self-awareness and coping skills. Parent and educator note and tips in the back.
Leo is doing what Leo needs to do, but it’s different than the other animals in his class. This is a classic story of how we all develop at our own speed with support, love and understanding.
Pout-Pout struggles through his first day of school until he finds that help is available. This story is great for practice in turning those negative self-talk statements into positive declarations.