Stress affects the youngest members of our society in different ways. Sometimes our children may act out or become aggressive as a way to deal with it. They may also start withdrawing from social activities or stop focusing on their schoolwork, which can cause grades to slip.
It is important to recognize these behaviors as signs that something isn’t right. While parents may see this misbehavior as a reflection of their parenting, that often is not the case.
Spending some extra time talking with your children to get to the heart of the problem is extremely beneficial. Children often do not understand some of the emotions they are feeling, and they may not be able to put those feelings into words. The emotions may simply be incredibly overwhelming for them, too.
This “What Tantrums Mean” guide can be a helpful tool to understanding how your children are growing emotionally. It also is a good reminder to check in with your own feelings to make sure you are not blaming yourself for your child’s behavior.
Zones of Regulation
As our children are learning and growing, they are also learning about emotions and how to deal with them.
Children are new to understanding how different emotions work and how these emotions affect not only their feelings but also their behavior, their physical bodies and their well-being. They may not understand why anger makes them lash out, or that anxiety makes their stomach hurt.
Learning the “Zones of Regulation” can help your child understand these important aspects of their behavior. Talking about different emotions is the best way to learn how to control them.
Introduce the “Zones of Regulation” to your children and discuss the different adjectives that describe emotions. Learning how to describe these feelings will lead to a better understanding of your child’s emotions that can greatly benefit you both.
When your child starts to feel his or her emotions spiraling out of control, these self-regulation skills can help them cope with the difficult feelings.
Practice these regularly, and participate in them with your child. Talk about how each of them makes your child feel before, during and after. Your child might be amazed at how great they feel after each one, and he or she might have a favorite they are most likely to use next time it’s needed!
Drain: Ask your child to extend their arms out to the sides, pretending they are faucets. Have him or her tighten both arms, shoulders and face muscles like they are restricting the water flow. Then, ask them to exhale slowly, making a “sssshhh” sound like rushing water, and let all those muscles slowly relax as the “water” (or stress) slowly drains out. Repeat as often as necessary to calm nerves, stress, anxiety or emotions.
S.T.A.R.: Smile, Take a deep breath, And Relax. Work with your child on deep breathing techniques, showing them how to breathe into the belly while they watch or feel the belly expanding with each breath. As they exhale, teach them to slowly let each breath go while focusing on the belly contracting. Adding a smile can brighten their mood, even if it seems strange at first. This technique will help calm their central nervous system, allowing them to ease tense feelings.
Pretzel: Younger children will enjoy turning their bodies into a “pretzel” with this technique. To do this, have your kid stand up and cross their ankles. Now, have them cross the right wrist over the left, turning their hands so the thumbs are facing the floor. Now, have them put their palms together and interlace their fingers. Bend the elbows out and gently turn the hands down and toward the body until they rest on the center of the chest. In this position, your child now can relax and breathe, focusing on staying still and calm while tightly wound up like a pretzel. Their hands rest in a central position, allowing them to feel their heartbeat and breath, which is also incredibly calming!
Balloon: Kids will enjoy the idea of being a balloon, too, with this technique! Have them place their hands on top of their head and interlace the fingers. As they breathe in, have them raise their arms up, inflating and rising like an imaginary balloon. After the “float” up, have them slowly release the balloon air by exhaling slowly and lowering the arms, all while making a funny balloon noise: “pbpbpbpbpbp” with their lips!
We hope these self-regulation tips help you and your child understand emotions and deal with stress and anxiety in a healthy way.