teaching kids to manage feelings

A standard lesson that I taught every year as an elementary school counselor was recognizing feelings. It was a fun lesson. I’d bring in large cut outs of children showing mad, sad, happy or scared feelings and ask kids to guess how the child was feeling. We’d talk about body language and how  we know what someone is feeling.  We described feelings and came up with positive ways to show how we feel and negative ways to express the same feeling.  For example. a positive way to handle anger is to talk about it and a negative way is to hit someone.

This approach to teaching feelings is useful and gives kids a common language for expressing their feelings.  However, it is a basic classroom lesson and doesn’t really cover all the bases in helping kids manage feelings, especially negative ones.   What can we teach the child who needs anger management strategies or the child who is anxious and fearful, beyond how to recognize these feelings and positive ways to act them out?

Typical lessons on managing emotions teach kids to do things that redirect their attention or to do something that helps them calm down so they can regain control.  An example of redirecting is when you are angry, read a book or watch a movie and the feeling will go away.  An example of a calming technique is to count to 10 or take deep breaths.  These are good ideas but they don’t really get to the root of the problem and for some kids they simply won’t be effective.

What if we also taught kids to use self-talk to manage feelings that are uncomfortable, feelings that create problems for them or that ultimately interfere with living their best life?  Here’s what it would look like:

  • Recognize and observe the feeling-“I’m feeling angry because my heart is beating fast, my hands and teeth are clenched and I’m breathing fast.
  • Reflect on the mental message that created the feeling– “I’m thinking… I had the toy first and my sister shouldn’t have taken the toy without asking.”
  • Change the message to change the feeling-“What if I thought instead “It’s okay for someone else to play with the toy.  It’s okay for me to share the toy but I’d like to be asked first.”
  • Determine behavior and actions based on the new calmer feeling– “I can talk to my sister and tell her that I don’t mind sharing the toy but I’d like for her to ask me first.

If you are thinking that takes a lot more time and effort than just telling someone to count to 10 when they are mad… you are right.  On the other hand, you are teaching kids the vital life skill of how to manage feelings rather than letting feelings run the show. Understanding how thoughts create feelings rather than the other way around is empowering because it doesn’t teach a pat response to coping with a negative feeling. Instead it teaches kids how to manage their self-talk in a positive way that is applicable to any situation.  It’s also much more effective.  After all, how often have you seen a kid stop, count to ten and then handle anger appropriately?  How often have you done it?  See what I mean?

Sometimes simple isn’t better.

 

Related Posts:

3 ways to teach kids to handle anxiety

6 steps to manage test anxiety

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