A mom recently shared with me a handy mnemonic that reminds you what to do when your child is having a strong emotional reaction. The process comes from the same philosophies that I follow and teach, but improves upon them by being simple and easy to remember!
We know the most important thing to do when our child is upset is to keep or regain our own peacefulness, but once you’ve done that, how best to respond to your child? The easy-to-remember hint: Feel, felt, found.
“Feel” reminds us to begin by reflecting: say out loud what you see, with empathy and warm, non-verbal body language that tells your child that you see and understand what they are feeling. It might sound like:
• “I can tell that you are feeling upset.”
• “Oh, gosh, I can really see that you are feeling angry about this.”
• “Whew, that really scared you, didn’t it!”
“Felt” represents your opportunity to relate to your child in this emotional and sensitive moment, and to let them know you relate to them and what they are experiencing. The sensation of being ‘felt’ and heard and understood is one of the best feelings there is, so be sure to really be present and connected in this. It might sound like:
• “I have felt the same way.”
• “I feel upset when I can’t have my way sometimes, too!”
• “Once, I had to do that too, and I remember it felt really scary.”
“Found” finally brings the moment that parents so often yearn for–the opportunity to share your experience and wisdom with your child–your chance to teach, to guide, to educate! It might sound like:
• “Can I share what I’ve found that helps me deal with this?” (I love for parents to ask for permission to give advice.)
• “I’ve found that xyz really makes me feel better.”
• “I’ve found that xyz makes the problems seem smaller/happen less frequently.”
An important part of healthy relationships is the sense that the other person respects your subjective experience–responding with ‘feel’ and ‘felt’ in those difficult moments is an effective way to assure that you are doing that for your child. Thanks, smart Mama who shared—this handy, simple, way to remember this is a help for us all!
When people come to see me, it’s generally because they are seeking change. Something isn’t quite the way they want it to be: they want to grow, or help their child grow. That desired change?—it begins in the brain.
Scientists used to think that brains stopped growing after a certain age, but thankfully we now know better. Modern neuroscience has proven that the human brain is “plastic”—it can change and grow throughout life. This is great news, because it means that we can change and grow throughout life—we can change our habits, our beliefs, our expectations, our fears. Understanding and acquiring what the human brain needs in order to learn, change, and grow is a necessary step in the revolution you seek.
Dan Siegel, psychiatrist, researcher, and one of the founders of the Interpersonal Neurobiology movement, identifies 7 fundamentals that are necessary for brain growth.
- Sleep. Sleep is so important, and modern parents (and kids) just do not get enough. I myself often remind parents that sleep deprivation is listed in the Geneva Convention as a form of torture. It’s really important, so make sure your whole family is getting enough.
- Good nutrition. You already know this one—but eating more fruits, vegetables, avoiding highly processed foods, limiting sugar and sugary drinks are all ways to help the body—and therefore the mind—work better. Dr. Siegel also singled out getting enough of the nutrient Omega 3 as particularly important to the developing mind.
- Physical activity. Adults and children need daily exercise and activity, including both weight-bearing and aerobic activity. Exercise is proven to regulate mood and improve focus.
- Novelty. Our brains are quick and smart because they look for patterns—you don’t have to discover how a water faucet works every single time you visit a new bathroom, thank goodness. But the shortcuts our brain takes when it recognizes a pattern actually work against us when we want change. So, try to mix things up, introduce playfulness or humor, or change the scene somehow in order to bring a little novelty into the situation. It will make your brain sit up and take notice!
- Focus of attention. What are you paying attention to? Your focus drives energy and information through certain circuits of your brain. More energy and information=more growth.
- Safety. Without this, the brain doesn’t learn and grow well at all. It is absolutely essential.
- Mindful awareness. This is your mind’s ability to observe as opposed to reacting. I sometimes call this the opposite of the “Whack-a-mole” mode. Instinctual reactions are helpful when you are yanking someone out of the way of a speeding car, but in most parent-child conflicts, that’s not the part of the brain you want running the show. Brain growth is improved when we are able to pull ourselves out of our instincts.
If you want to foster change and growth, prioritize the items on this list. The more of the above 7 elements you can put in to place for yourself or for your children, the easier and longer-lasting growth can be.
As part of my work with SWParents.org, we produced a video for parents on how to talk to your kids about death. I also share a few basic tips for understanding and responding to the various ways that children can express grief. Please take a look if you think this topic might be helpful to you or a loved one. Non-members can watch up to 10 videos or read 10 articles per month for free. The link below will take you directly to the video.
Yesterday, I defined coping skills.
Today, I’m listing some ways to help your child improve their coping skills.
- First, talk to your child about emotions. They need to be able to recognize their own emotions (as well as the emotions of others) in order to cope with them!
- Second, define the term “coping skills” for your kids, and talk about when you use them. (Give concrete examples.) Tell stories of times in the past when you saw your child handling their emotions well–what specifically did you see them do? Talk about that and praise your child.
- Third, sit down with your child, and brainstorm things your child likes to do. Riding her bike? Playing with the dog? Reading a book? Check! The parent should write down every idea your child identifies, plus a few of your own. It’s fine if the list includes video games, eating candy, and/or clothes shopping, but just make sure that there are healthy/free/easy/quick/always accessible activities, too.
- Fourth, once you’ve got a rough list of fun activities, make a fun art project out of it! Rewrite the list on a big piece of paper, and decorate it together with your child. Maybe even draw tiny pictures representing some of the activities! (just have fun doing it.) Talk about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Post the final version up on the wall somewhere prominent–the fridge, for example.
Now, you’re ready! The next time your child is mildly upset, do this:
- Validate their feelings.
- Ask if they’d like some help from you.
- If they say yes, walk with them over to the list, and have them pick 1 thing.
- Do the activity. Alone or together, their choice. (one of the great things about this step is that your attention is built-in praise for your child’s positive behavior–using a coping skill is a big positive, and one that we want to encourage!)
- When you’re done, process! Talk about your child feels now, as compared to before. Be sure to clarify at some point that the coping skill doesn’t ‘fix’ the original problem–it simply makes us feel a little better in the moment.
So, if you go through these steps, and rinse/repeat a number of times, then you will likely find that your child starting to make this a habit–a positive habit! And soon, you’ll see your child using their coping skills for upsets that are bigger than “mild.” Ahhh, a very happy achievement this will be!
Today’s post is a basic description of coping skills. You probably already know all of this, but sometimes we all need a refresher. (or is that just me?) ;^)
A coping skill is any trick, technique, or habit that you use to “deal with” something. For example:
- When you feel anxious, you might say to yourself: “I’m okay, I can handle this, it’s
going to be okay.” That’s called “positive self-talk.
- Going for a walk is a positive and healthy coping skill. A fast walk uses physical
exercise to moderate/expend the excess energy and brain chemicals that strong emotions produce.
- Asking for a hug from someone you love. That hug helps us cope in many ways: it reminds of of our connection to another; it produces oxytocin–a ‘feel good’ brain chemical; and it provides physical grounding. Plus, it just feels good. :^)
- Other examples of grown-up coping skills: scrubbing the tub, mountain biking, talking to your best friend, journaling, drawing/making art, cooking, singing, playing guitar, gardening, meditation/praying, playing, deep breathing.
There is also such a thing as a negative coping skill. For example, alcohol/drugs, withdrawing from social contacts, or even veg-ing out in front of the TV can each be negative coping skills. A little of any of these coping skills is fine and normal. However, using them too often, too much, or exclusively causes side effects that make things worse.
As adults, we take for granted how many coping skills we’ve developed over the years. But trust me–you do know a lot! It’s just that your coping skills are so familiar to you now that they are invisible. ;^)
Come back tomorrow for more details on how to help your child improve their coping skills.