"Breath in . . . now breath out." My three year old niece follows these instructions as she clenches her fists and then releases them in time with the exhalation. Moments earlier she was screaming about a toy that my daughter took from her. Repeating a simple exercise like this has gotten us out of many a tantrum. As I'm coming to learn, children can wind themselves into a frenzy over practically nothing. But to them, the frustration and anger are valid emotions. How can we help our children learn to balance themselves out, teaching them life-long lessons for how to deal with stress?
Our United Way First Born visitor shared a really important lesson with us. "Think about what your child is allowed to do with their anger." All kids get angry (all people get angry), so instead of running interference when your child is banging their head against the floor or throwing objects, tell them what things they are allowed to do to express their emotions. "Remember that kids feels emotions with their whole bodies. When they are happy, they're jumping and dancing. When they're angry, they're flinging their bodies and limbs around." Our visitor suggested one way to show anger would be to do something like a lion's roar, open your mouth wide and breath out hard.
She also asked my husband and me what we do with our anger. I had to think for a second. What do I do when I'm angry? I guess I sulk a little bit and take some time alone to regroup. Sometimes, when I'm really angry, I need to exert myself physically, either going for a brisk walk or punching a pillow. It's interesting to take note of these coping mechanisms to evaluate if this is how I want my daughter to learn how to express difficult emotions. My new phrase when my daughter hits me out of frustrations is, "You're allowed to be angry with me about _______ but you're not allowed to hit me." I haven't found the exact way for her to express her anger but I suggest breathing/clenching fists or roaring like a lion. Please share your own coping mechanisms, either for yourself or your child. I'd love to hear suggestions!