By: Henrietta Joyce
Today I was working with one of my clients and we were looking at the issue of helping young children deal with their frustrations. She was telling me how her little boy became so frustrated that he would bite himself. Toddlers often find dealing with their emotions really difficult because they are developing new skills. Sometimes they can’t find the words to express themselves or they have difficulty mastering a skill because they lack the physical dexterity required for completing some tasks. We need to understand why children have tantrums and change our attitude to them because tantrums are a horribly normal part of child development. I remember feeling embarrassed and annoyed when my daughter went through the terrible three’s stage. When I realised why the tantrums were occurring I was able to minimise them. I noticed her tantrums were usually pent up frustration so I began to teach her how to deal with her emotions. Helping children to deal with their emotions is a valuable life skill that many raging adults have not learnt during childhood.
There are many ways in which we can teach our children how to deal with their emotions. Here are two effective techniques: Firstly we can name the feelings for them. For example I could say, ‘ Ryan its frustrating when the pencil keeps slipping out of your hand.’
Secondly we can teach them how to use the traffic lights technique. This simple technique works really well. You draw traffic light on a piece of card, the symbols are red – intense feeling, yellow – getting calmer, and green – content or happy. you would ask your child to point to a colour on the traffic light that demonstrated how angry, sad, frustrated he was feeling. Lets take the example of Ryan. I’d ask Ryan to show we on the traffic light how frustrated he was feeling. He would point to red. I’d say to Ryan, ‘Right now you are feeling really frustrated.’ He’d probably point to the red light on the traffic lights. I’d then encourage Ryan to work on feeling calm again. I would ask Ryan to pretend that there were five candles in front of him and ask him to try blowing the imaginary candles out. I would observe his response until I could see that he was becoming calmer. Then I’d ask him to show me again on the traffic light how he was feeling. We’d carry on blowing imaginary candles until he was back to green on the traffic light.
Finally when Ryan was in a calmer frame of mind I would teach him how to deal with his emotions in a constructive manner. By asking open-ended or multiple choice questions a child can learn how to express his emotions. Helping children deal with their feelings eventually reduces tantrums and empowers them for life.
About the author
Henri Joyce teaches effective parenting at the University of Masters, facilitates teleclasses and parenting workshops. She also offers one-to-one and group coaching.
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