Experiencing emotions is a vital part of being human. Emotions give us information, motivate us and prepare us to act, and give others information about how we are feeling. However, emotions can also be difficult to handle, particularly when the intensity of the emotion grows beyond what we can easily manage, as well as when they are more painful emotions like sadness, anxiety, shame, or guilt. When painful emotions become very intense (i.e., become “big” emotions), they tend to lead to impulsive behaviors, hard to control emotional thoughts, and intense physical sensations, such as tight muscles, an upset stomach, or a headache. Learning to manage painful, big emotions and particularly, to catch and soothe those emotions before they get too big, is an important ability for children to develop. Read on for tips on how to teach your child to handle their big emotions. Name and Normalize Big Emotions We all experience emotions and they are important and helpful - even when they are not easy to experience. Teach your child that we all experience emotions and that they are important and helpful - even when they are not easy to experience. Brainstorm together about the emotions they experience and how they might be helpful. For example, feeling a little nervous before a test motivates them to study. Feeling guilty after saying something unkind reminds them to be more gentle in the future. Crying when they are sad lets an adult know that they might need help or want to talk. If your child is not sure how to tell the difference between emotions, link emotions to body sensations. For example, anger often shows up as heat in the body while anxiety often causes tight muscles including tense, hunched shoulders and fists or a clenched jaw. The next time your child is experiencing an emotion, gently ask where they are feeling it in their body. This, along with practice noticing and naming emotions, is a foundational step of emotion awareness and regulation. Teach Coping Skills Teach your child a few simple coping skills to soothe their big emotions. It is helpful to match the skill to the intensity of the emotion being experienced as different skills help with different levels of emotional intensity. Kids also often benefit from a visual, such as an emotional thermometer where small (i.e., less intense) emotions are on the bottom part of the thermometer, medium are in the middle, and big are on the top. A helpful coping skill for when emotions are less intense or “small,” is to practice helpful “self-talk.” This skill can be adapted depending on the situation, but the basic approach is to acknowledge that you are having a tough time and to encourage or coach yourself as you would a friend in the situation. For example, if your child is struggling with homework they might say “this is really hard! At the same time, I’m doing my best and can ask my teacher for help tomorrow.” As another example,Read More
Gun violence is an all too common occurrence in our communities. Children may experience fear, anxiety, and confusion after experiencing, witnessing, or hearing about shootings in their community. The authors of the New York Times best-selling, award-winning book about a police shooting, Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice, Marianne Celano, PhD, ABPP, Marietta Collins, PhD, and Ann Hazzard, PhD, ABPP, created a new book, Something Happened In Our Park: Standing Together After Gun Violence, to help kids and grown-ups talk about gun violence and explore positive ways to respond. This excerpt from the extensive Reader’s Note in Something Happened In Our Park provides guidelines for discussing community gun violence with children. The Incidence and Impact of Gun Violence Every year over 15,000 children and teens, ages 0-19, are killed or injured by shootings, an average of 43 per day. An estimated three million children witness a shooting each year. Exposure to community violence puts children at increased risk for a variety of negative psychological outcomes. These children spend less time outside and are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, emotional concerns and concentration problems contribute to poorer academic performance. Helping Children Cope with Anxiety We all want our children to feel safe. Yet, we also want to prepare them for the dangers they may face. At times, this preparation might increase their anxiety, although appropriate education also increases children’s actual safety. These are competing priorities, and finding the right balance is challenging. Individual and Family Strategies to Increase Safety and Reduce Anxiety Children who become aware of shootings may become fearful and want to avoid certain activities and places. Other symptoms of anxiety are sleep and appetite changes, physical complaints, concentration problems, clinginess, irritability, or behavior problems. Parents have an important role in helping children cope with anxiety. Children sense when their caretakers are stressed, so it is important for parents to develop strategies to manage their feelings. Children also rely on parents to help them understand and manage their feelings. These approaches may be helpful. Limit your child’s exposure to graphic violent imagery in the news or in other media such as video games. Ask your children questions to find out what information they have and how they are feeling. Discuss your child’s reactions and concerns. Validate their feelings. Help your child manage their reactions using some of the strategies below, designed to help them cope with feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Expressing Feelings: You can help your children manage stress by coaching them to “turn down the volume” on emotions that feel overwhelming. Deep breathing, drawing, humming or singing, snuggling with a pet or favorite cuddly object, and visualizing a safe place, positive memory, or situation where your child mastered something scary are all calming strategies. Any activity which helps your child feel empowered, like music, sports, or prayer, can help to balance feelings of vulnerability. Encouraging Positive Thinking: Positive thinking means encouraging your child to thinkRead More
Expert Guidance for You and Your Anxious Child
Learning the difference between a psychologist, psychiatrist, and social worker or understanding clinical terms such as cognitive–behavioral therapy can be overwhelming. Finding the right resources is critical to addressing a child’s mental health needs and moving forward toward effective care.
In How to Find Mental Health Care for Your Child, seasoned child psychologist and author Ellen B. Braaten offers clear and expert guidance to help anxious parents navigate the complexities of mental health care.
Magination Press’s new series of activity books, The Find Out Files, help kids explore emotions and relationships. Magination Press interviewed author and parenting expert, Isabelle Filliozat, about creating My Fears, one of the books in The Find Out Files. Magination Press: You chose a meerkat as the animal guide for My Fears. Why is a meerkat well-suited to the topic of fear? Isabelle Filliozat: Meerkats are called the sentinels of the desert. They have this behavior of looking around and paying attention to any movement, this quick reaction. That’s why I choose them to illustrate the “protection from danger” system. Fear being the primary emotion of that system. MP: You explain how fear is a physical reaction that protects us from danger, and so sometimes fear is a good thing. Why is it important for people to learn to tell the difference between real dangers and perceived ones? IF: If it is a real danger, fear is useful. It can save us. Fear helps us perceive danger, see a movement, identify a threat. It gives us the energy to step aside, run, escape. But if it is not a real danger, there’s no use to stress our body like that ! Shivering in front of a mouse, or a dead rat, panicking on a plane or choking in an elevator doesn’t bring us any positive benefit. But all those irrational fears come from our story and if we listen to them, and analyse their roots, they help us cure our inner-self. MP: How did you decide which common fears (swimming, monsters/nightmares, or meeting new people) to feature in the book? IF: I wanted to feature a physical fear, a mental fear, and a social fear. Then you have tools for about any fear. MP: Sometimes, when people are afraid, they get angry. Why is that? IF: Because it is the same structure in the brain that sends the order for fear or anger: the amygdala. Both emotions ensure protection. When there is a threat, the amygdala triggers the stress reaction. Depending on the circumstances, we have three possibilities: fight, flight, freeze. So facing a danger, someone may display a fighting behavior. Also, if you were taught as a child that you shouldn’t be afraid, that boys don’t fear, you fear your fears! You don’t want to surrender to fear, don’t want to be seen as a coward… so you display aggressive behavior. Or if you were beaten or harshly scolded when you were afraid, then feeling fear is so stressful, so you attack! Some people like scary movies or books. Why do you think that is? Some people like taking physical risks, to climb cliffs, to drive their motorcycle fast, to jump from high bridges, to surf big waves. Stress, fear—it’s adrenaline. It’s sensations. It’s excitement. It’s feeling alive! But we don’t all dare take risks! Almost all of us like suspense in movies or books, we identify with the characters, we feel sensations, quiver, thrill, our heart beatsRead More