As adults we expect to encounter daily challenges, often simultaneously! In some instances, we can easily say, “There is always a problem!” Over time we’ve learned to manage multiple difficult situations by remaining calm, and employing various successful strategies in the moment so that we can resolve the issues. How have we learned to remain calm? Some of us exercise, vent to a friend, or take a yoga class. We incorporate successful strategies into our regular routine and disregard those that are less helpful. As adults, we are typically able to remain clam when a problem arises, allowing us to think our way to a solution.
To solve daily issues, children and adults need to keep calm and think their way to solutions. If your child or teen feels too frustrated in the moment to generate and apply problem solving techniques, then they may benefit from some guidance on how to calm themselves. This will improve their overall mood and improve their ability to face a new challenge. Letting issues go unresolved can lead to continuing frustration down the road. They fill an emotional “backpack” with problems that become too heavy for them to carry. The unresolved worries intensify the next difficult situation, which further overloads the backpack, and makes subsequent problems more difficult to solve.
Learning and practicing strategies to empty the emotional backpack helps kids figure out that they can improve their mood, increase their ability to remain calm, and think through challenging situations. Once the strategies become routine, the hope is that kids will practice them independently. The most beneficial strategies may be encouraging your child to engage in activities he or she likes: sports, art, music, time with pets, writing are all examples of strategies they can use to help center themselves.
Here are some strategies to introduce to your children and teens during down time.
Spending time with nature and finding some sunshine
The sun is a natural mood elevator due to the vitamin D it provides. And when we spend time in nature, be it in the woods, in a park or by the water, we naturally decompress. Ask your children to be mindful about their surroundings when outside. Maybe focus on colors, scents, sounds for a few quiet moments and then compare notes. Did you hear the babbling water? I heard the birds. The key is to be present in the moment and focus only on the environment.
Encourage your children to talk about what is concerning them, even if it is with a different adult they trust. Is there a favorite relative nearby or does the School Counselor have a quiet office? Sometimes a coach or a Scout leader is a natural fit. Kids may also be more talkative when you are not staring at each other–for example, a quiet car ride where you are both looking forward, or when taking a walk or playing catch.
Remember to reflect the feelings your children and teens convey during these conversations, rather than judging or trying to solve it for them. This improves the likelihood they will open up again. The goal is to help them to identify the feeling, identify what happened to make them feel it, and brainstorm ideas of how to solve it. It may be challenging to resist solving their problem, but we can provide supports to help them. For example, if a middle schooler fails a test and is uncomfortable approaching the teacher about it, help them write an email to the teacher. You might try role playing what s/he would say to the teacher.
Even young children benefit from focusing on their breath. Encourage them to sit comfortably, in a chair, close their eyes and listen to their breath for a few minutes. Explain to them that their minds will wander, thinking of various things, and this is expected. The goal is to bring your thoughts back to the breath without judging the thoughts or the occurrence of thoughts.
A few ideas to help this practice along:
- Breathe with them. Sit back to back in chairs and put on a timer. Increase the time of the sessions over time.
Play white noise. This helps drown out any distracting sounds.
- Play a meditation recording. This structures the meditation. There are many on the internet.
- Try it daily! You’ll be surprised how much calmer you and your children feel and how their ability to remain calm in difficult situations improves.
Being intentionally grateful improves our mood. Taking the time each day to think of all our blessings, big and small, changes our focus. How often do we and our children talk about what we want or need? We often focus on what we lack, thinking that getting it will make us happier. Instead, let’s examine all that we have. Practicing gratitude with our children and teens daily will change how we look at our world.
A few ideas to help practice gratitude each day:
- Buy gratitude journals and write in them daily, a simple list works.
- Before dinner or bedtime, ask everyone to name three things or people that made them feel grateful and why.
- Have a gratitude battle. Time a minute and take turns naming things that make you feel grateful. It’s hard not to smile during this one! Here are some examples from our gratitude battles: pets, baseball, family, Broadway, the smell of cut grass, the crunch of leaves in the fall, waterfalls, the beach, chocolate.
Picturing our favorite place in vivid detail will bring forward the calm and happy feelings we feel in that place. The next step is stepping into that calm place, imaging the touches, sights, smells, and sounds that exist in that place with closed eyes and a relaxed body. As with breathing this works best in a quiet place, when kids are seated with their eyes closed. If they struggle, ask them to look at a picture of the location. Children and teens may benefit from talking through the sights, sounds, smells and feelings of their calm place.
Remember, these mood elevating techniques can supplement what your children and teens already do to empty their emotional backpacks so that they can more calmly face challenges to lead to improved problem solving.
Related Books from Magination Press
Chillax!: How Ernie Learns to Chill Out, Relax, and Take Charge of His Anger
Meet Ernie, a typical kid with an everyday life. Ernie has great friends, a great family (except for his annoying sister), and a great school.
There’s only one problem—Ernie doesn’t just get mad. He gets really, really MAD!!!
With the help of a school counselor and the support of his family, Ernie learns about his angry outbursts and discovers that he has the power to control and calm himself.
Chillax! also includes a kid-friendly resource section with even more information about emotions, plus easy-to-use tools and strategies for dealing with anger when it gets too big or out of control.