It is not a surprise that with the change in school circumstances kids are feeling overwhelmed and this emotion can look like lots of different things. Depending on the age and temperament of your child, they may cry, withdraw, or act in an aggressive manner. Many times this extreme behavior occurs because kids do not always have the emotional awareness or maturity to communicate their feelings. Or if they are teens, it is likely due to the major adolescent brain changes that make it almost impossible to remain rational. Many kids just do not know how to manage intense emotions in a healthy way. So how can you help? Three simple steps may help.
1. Teach Your Child How to Communicate their Feeling with an Emotion Rating Scale: For older children and teens, ask them to rate their emotions with a number between 1 and 10 (1= this is the worst day ever, 10= this the best day better, 5= just a normal day). For younger children use a Thumbs Up, Middle, or Down scale. (Up= “I’m feeling great, all is awesome”, Down= “I feel horrible”, Middle= everything else). Using a simple rating scale helps a child practice how to express their emotions. If your child is having an “thumbs-down” or "below 3", resist the urge to ask, “What’s wrong.” Instead, ask specific questions (have you been feeling like this all day, can you tell me what happened that made you feel horrible, etc). Listen carefully, take mental notes, and try not to judge, coach, or lecture. Your child may just need an opportunity to express his/her feelings. Use these questions as a way to help you child identify their "triggers." (http://hirukowellness.com/is-your-child-overwhelmed/)
2. Teach Your Child How to Control Emotions: Teach your child that while it is ok to feel intense emotions like frustration, anger, or sadness, it is not ok to let those emotions control them. The goal is to help your child learn how to calm down or cope when these intense emotions surface. Counting to ten, deep breathing, and taking a break are three great strategies for calming down. Last week, Mrs. Beare also shared a free resource from calm.com that has breathing exercises, yoga, and more that may be helpful. (https://www.verywellfamily.com/how-to-help-an-overly-emotional-child-4157594)
When it comes to the frustration your child may be expressing with school work, make them take a break. Since the school closure, my children frequently take Hank , our dog, on a walk when they have reached their "max" on school assignments. Even before this break, I sent my children on "walks around the house" when they were so upset that they spoke to me with a disrespectful tone. These breaks also help me from getting "tangled" up in their problem and to remain calm.
3. Avoid Reinforcing Emotional Outbursts: If you wish to teach your child how to regulate their emotions it is important that you do not encourage those behaviors. It's a fine balance between helping your child when they are upset and rewarding them through attention. Offer comfort, but also give them the opportunity to self-soothe (taking a walk, deep breathing, or listening to a mediation on their own). One day you will not be there to talk them through the situation and you do not want your child to learn that getting upset is the best way to attract your attention. Help them learn the skills needed one day become calm, rational adults.
Hopefully these steps will help you and your children when the frustration level is high. Remember that you are your child's best model for how to manage emotions. It is perfectly ok for you take a break or deep breathe when you feel yourself getting angry, sad, or overwhelmed. I know that Hank and I will be taking plenty of "walks" during this COVID-19 pandemic and hopefully my own sanity and family will be better for it!