All children experience changes and transitions - moving, changing schools, a friend leaving town. These changes can bring uncertainty and sadness about what a child may "lose", such as friends, caregivers, teachers, comforting rituals. This is common even when there's excitement about what may be next. Transitions and changes can become times where we recognize how much we care about someone or something. When we feel a sense of loss, it's because we care. Changes and transitions are not disconnected starts and stops from everyday life; they are bridges between the past and the future. You can help children carry a sense of wholeness and continuity through the impermanent landscapes of their lives. Changes are bridges between the past and the future. Below are a few guidelines and examples of what you can say to a child experiencing a change or transition. You'll want to adjust what you say and how you say it according to a child's developmental level and what you know about your child. Also, children often need repetition and may want to have the discussion more than once. Your child may repeat it to you, as they try to strengthen their understanding of what is happening. Acknowledge the transition. Acknowledge the change or transition and the feelings that often come with it. For example, you might say, "You are going to have a different school (home, class, etc.) now. People can feel a lot of different ways when something like this happens. Some kids feel sad, some scared, and some mad. Some might feel excited about some of the things that will be different." Express and validate feelings. Ask about your child's feelings. Sometimes, children will only tell you something if you ask. You could ask, "How do you feel about going to a different school?" or "How do you feel about your friend moving away?" Children may express their feelings directly or indirectly. They may cry. They may want to avoid the discussion. Either way, allow and accept the feelings and let children know their feelings make sense. Listen without expressing judgment about their feelings and without telling them what they should feel. If a child expresses feelings directly, saying they are sad and/or mad, you might say, "Yeah, sometimes I also feel that way when things change but I want them to stay the same." If the child nods or otherwise shows that you've hit the mark, you might go further and recognize how hard it can be to accept what's out of our control. For example, you might add something along the lines of, "Sometimes I wish I had magic powers to make things be the way I want them." If a child expresses feelings indirectly, try to see what these feelings are or may be. For example, if a child puts their head down, you might try, "You seem sad." If you get no response and the child seems open to talking, you can check your perception with, "Are you sad?" ValidateRead More
Strong emotions are an essential part of being human. They enable us to love, feel joy, and connect with others. However, strong emotions - particularly uncomfortable feelings like sadness, anger, and fear - can be painful and hard to cope with. Children are not born knowing how to handle these powerful emotions. Perhaps you can think of examples from just this week when your own child struggled with anger or sadness! Learning to navigate their own emotions is one of the most important developmental tasks young children face. As a parent or caregiver, there is much you can do to help your child build skills to cope with big emotions. Validate your child's emotions... One of the most important things a caregiver can do to support an upset child is to validate their feelings. In the context of emotions, validation means communicating to your child that you hear they are upset and it is okay to feel that way. It is important to note that validating your child's strong emotions does not imply that you accept or approve of their behaviors following that emotion. For example, if your child is feeling angry about someone knocking their blocks over and yells or knocks their playmate's blocks in retaliation, you might say "Given how hard you worked on your block tower, I understand that you're feeling angry." By saying this, you are not communicating "... and it's great that you knocked over John's blocks!" but instead are simply sharing that you see they are upset and the emotion makes sense to you. Labeling your child's emotions helps to increase their emotional self-awareness. It also helps them begin to make connections between their experiences (my tower was knocked over) and emotions (and now I feel mad). This is a critical building block of learning to regulate emotions. Validation can also be very soothing to a child dealing with a painful feeling. It's important, however, to resist the urge to jump straight from validation to problem solving. ... and pause before problem solving It is almost always more effective to wait to talk through a difficult situation with your child when they are calm, rather than in the heat of a strong emotion. Think of a situation in your own life in which you felt strong emotions. How effectively could you take in language and think through your actions while still feeling intense emotions? Probably not very well! Children are the same, only to a greater degree because of their not-yet-fully-developed brains! Validate your child's difficult emotion first, then help them calm down. Later, when your child is calmer, you can discuss their emotion-related actions, give a consequence if needed, and problem solve for how they can cope more skillfully in the future. Of course, if your child's strong emotion caused them to do something unsafe, it is important to respond immediately. For example, by separating them from the playmate they hit. Once your child is calm, you canRead More
Help Your Little Worrier Stay Calm
A Feel Better Book for Little Worriers helps children understand what worries are and what to do when they are feeling worried. From verses that demonstrate body awareness to coping strategies for kids, A Feel Better Book is not only enjoyable for children to read, but also helpful for both children and caregivers. To learn more about how you can help your child cope with worries, check out our article Stress Management Exercises for Anxious Children.
Children with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are hard wired to have difficulty regulating their attention as well as their behaviors and moods. In fact, they often encounter problems that are a result of the symptoms of the disorder. They display different clusters of symptoms: those that are linked primarily to inattentiveness and distractibility, those that are linked to motor restlessness or hyperactivity, and those that are linked to impulsivity. A person can receive a diagnosis of ADHD Predominantly Inattentive Presentation, ADHD Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive Presentation, or ADHD Combined Presentation depending on the symptoms of that particular person. In addition to these clusters of symptoms, people with ADHD can also struggle with anxiety, depression, and anger management. Emotional regulation can be an ongoing challenge for children with ADHD. Adults sometimes think that if we give children medication and accommodations, that should solve the problem, however, medication alone is not enough. We also need to help them learn skills to regulate their emotions. The skills that are needed to regulate one's emotions are the same skills that these children struggle with. You must be able to: stop and think be aware of internal cues associate those cues with a name and label the feelings remember the strategies that have worked previously to handle the feelings and select one of them to use in current situations The skills listed above require executive functions, which are often lagging in children diagnosed with ADHD. Executive functions occur in the front part of the brain that acts like a CEO, directing the rest of the operations of the brain. These functions include self-awareness, self-control, and self-motivation as well as the ability to use inner-directed speech to control and modify one's own behavior. There are several steps involved in helping your child learn how to regulate emotions: He needs to become aware that he is having a feeling. Many children have told me that their feelings come out of nowhere: "I go from zero to sixty." Upon discretion, it becomes clear that the feelings have been mounting up all day, without the child noticing. One child I know had a major meltdown once after school. It seemed to come out of nowhere. Later, it turned out that he had a terrible day at school, failed a test, and got in a fight with his friends. When he got home he learned that his sister had gotten straight A's on her report card and was having a play date. He was unaware of how increasingly upset he was becoming. Helping your child build awareness of feelings as he has them can help. She must learn to recognize the physical sensations and attach and name to those feelings. For example, when a child feels anxious she may feel like she has butterflies in her stomach. She may feel jittery and shaky. When a child begins to feel angry she may feel like fighting or breaking things. People sometimes describe feelings in colors. When we are angryRead More