It started when grandma and grandpa left a tad earlier than my preschooler was expecting. Normally, this would leave her a bit sad causing her to retreat to her baby dolls to play alone. Today was different. Today, as soon as the door closed, her eyebrows furrowed, her lips pierced and her fists clenched. She was angry.
This conversation is sponsored by Conscious Discipline, but all opinions are my own.
I did what I always do when trying to calm my angry child. I used all my strategies and tricks… but she was having none of it.
By now, she was red in the face and was responding to anything I said with a strong and ferocious NO!!! louder than I even knew she could scream.
Where was my little baby that just the other day leaned on me to help her when she was upset. Why was she pushing me away? Instead of remaining calm and peaceful, I suddenly felt the urge to get angry right there with her.
Now, instead of responding in a calm and conscious way, I immediately regressed to using tactics that were more desperation than anything. “Quit acting like that…Fine. I don’t have time for this. Let me know when you are ready.”
You see, not only was my daughter lacking a crucial skill to get her through these big emotions, I was struggling to grapple with it, as well. I knew what needed to be done. I needed to help her calm down but this time, she wasn’t letting me anywhere near her. I couldn’t use my go-to calm down phrases. I couldn’t give her a simple calm-down tool. I couldn’t give her a hug and let her know I was there because she wouldn’t let me close. I couldn’t… I couldn’t… I couldn’t…
All the “I couldn’t”s started to trigger my own emotional reaction which was not going to end pretty in any way.
While I sat outside her room listening to her scream NO!!! loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear, I took a few really deep breathes and found my safe place. Immediately, I was reminded of exactly what I was forgetting in the scenario and what needed to be done.
The Critical Life Skill Your Angry Child is Probably Missing
Did you notice that the moment I felt like everything was slipping out of my control, I made my daughter’s meltdown all about me. “I’ll come back when you are ready (to treat ME nice).” “You can’t talk to ME like that.” “I need a break.” Unfortunately, despite knowing how the brain works doesn’t keep me from falling back into old habits when I am frustrated.
Without even realizing it, I took the situation out of my daughter’s hands and out of her wheelhouse and made her feel as if she could only “be happy” if she could be kind to me. Boy, was I wrong. Lately, I’ve been reading Managing Emotional Mayhem, by Dr. Becky Bailey (a book that came with a really fantastic emotional learning program that I’ll tell you more about in a bit). She talk a lot about scenarios just like this. What I did is a common mindset for many parents and something that happens more than you might think.
You see, I was lacking the very skill I was trying to teach my own daughter… self-regulation.
Lacking self-control is actually more common than you might think. The truth is shocking. Over 40% of all children lack this life skill that attributes to lifelong success.
You might have heard of self-regulation before and related it to impulse control, self-control and emotional control. But according to Dr. Bailey, it is so much more.
She goes on to say that when we (as parents) project our inability to identify, own and name our own feelings onto those around us (our kids), we feed into a very dangerous logic that “If you make me angry, you are at fault and you must change for me to feel better. You must change to help me regulate.”
Since children are born with immature internal emotional guidance, this behavior causes children to believe that their emotional states are in fact caused by what the adults in their lives do or don’t do. When I told my daughter that she was disappointing me with her behavior, I was solidifying this belief that adults make her mad, sad, scared or happy. When the truth is so much more.
It is my job (and yours) as the adult to guide my daughter to a place of self-regulation slowly. Of course, I need to set limits on behaviors, but at the same time, it is my job to teach her she is in charge of her own feelings and that she can control her inner voice. This means I have to coach her to become aware of her emotions, learn to regulate them and listen to her inner voice to guide them. Instead of telling my daughter how she needs to feel or making her feel bad for making poor choices when she was upset, I can do better.
So how exactly can I teach my daughter to learn self-regulation?
The Secret to Teaching Self Regulation
So, back to sitting outside that door while my daughter screamed bloody murder with no end in sight. Now that I had taken my deep breathes, found my calm place and felt ready to take on the world, I was ready to put into practice a simple strategy from my new tool, The Feeling Buddies© for Families Toolkit.
I was ready to help her take control of her own emotions, instead of simply trying to calm her down or take over the process for her. Instead of telling her how she should be feeling, I decided to use the conscious discipline method of addressing the inner feelings first and the behavior second using a method described as DNA (Describe, Name, Acknowledge). This is how it went:
Describe the moment without judgement: “Mamu and Papu left and I saw your eyebrows frown and your fists clench.”
Think of your words like a camera describing exactly what you see. If a camera couldn’t capture what you are describing, you are likely judging the moment. You can even “mirror” your child’s movements and actions, which in my case always gets the attention on my daughter.
Slowly, my daughter switched her gaze from the floor to me. I wanted to crack a smile and do a victory dance but I knew it was too soon to celebrate. Instead a took another deep breath and instantly cut the intensity in the room. I was ready for the next step and so was she.
Name the feeling being communicated. “You seem angry.” At this point, you have to make an educated guess and hope you are right.
I had her attention now. Next step…
Acknowledge your child’s positive intent and desires. “You were really hoping Mamu and Papu would stay and play with you longer.”
Bingo… she looked up at me, locked eyes and suddenly melted. In that moment, she knew I got it. And for the first time in a long time, I felt like I got it too. It felt great.
The Feeling Buddies© for Families Toolkit comes with much more than this three step process, but these three steps have so much power and strength in connecting parents and children, while coaching children towards emotional intelligence.
When I was in the classroom, I used this method and have remembered bits and pieces over the years. I have to tell you, reading Dr. Bailey’s methods and work reminded me just how important being present in the moment and recognizing the unconscious signals really are.
How to Use Feelings Buddies to Teach Emotional Regulation
The Feeling Buddies© for Families Toolkit come with an entire guide for the parents, which is different than any other emotional regulation tool I have ever seen. Through exclusive video coaching sessions with Dr. Becky Bailey, you will learn about each piece of the toolkit and how to put The Feelings Buddies© into action with your family.
It is important to emphasize that The Feelings Buddies© are tools, not toys. Reading over the material before introducing the tools to your children will help you coach them and lead them to a greater understanding of their inner voice.
If you recall, the DNA process names and acknowledges the feelings, but there are more steps to coaching your child through their big emotions.
After I had my daughter’s attention, it was easy to direct her to the Feelings Buddies. She immediately grabbed “Angry” and hugged it as she took her deep breaths. We sat in her safe place together and connected again. I didn’t care how long it took and neither did she because we both knew it was going to be alright.
The best part of the Feelings Buddies program is that I get to work on my self regulation strategies right beside my kids. So not only is it helping my children develop the most important life skill to being successful adults, it helps me be in tune with my triggers and inner voice so I can be the best mom I know how to be.
The Feeling Buddies© for Families Toolkit is a newly released product from Conscious Discipline, a leading provider in social-emotional learning and classroom management resources. This Self-Regulation toolkit is exclusively available for purchase at FeelingBuddies.com
I know the next time my daughter starts to meltdown with big emotions, exactly where I am turning and what I will do to coach her emotional self-regulation. I will turn to The Feelings Buddies© and Dr. Becky Bailey’s methods. I also, won’t take for granted the single most important skill I can teach my child when she gets angry… self-regulation.
So, what do you think? Is your angry child one of the 40% of children lacking self-regulation? Do you let your own self-regulation get in the way of helping your child take control of their big emotions? I’d love to hear about it!