As adults, we know how powerful anger and frustration can be. When it comes to children, their strong emotions can trigger intense reactions. The lack of words and coping skills can cause their reaction to emotions to be sudden and lead to meltdowns.
When children have sudden meltdowns, it can seem like they flipped a switch. These sudden meltdowns may be caused by the build up of frustration over time. Adults know when our anger buttons are pushed and we know what we need to do to work through our feelings in an appropriate way.
Developing coping strategies with children to deal with frustration will take some time and practice. But there is hope! You can help your child build the skills with these four tools:
- Body Mapping
Our emotional state affects how our body muscles feel. Children aren’t able to make that connection, so they won’t stop to think how their emotions contribute to sore muscles from clenching their firsts during a tantrum or the pain in their jaw from squeezing their teeth together because they’re angry.
One tool to use is a body map. On a piece of paper, draw an outline of a person and ask your child to think about all the places where their body feels sore, or hurts when they’re angry or frustrated. You can do this activity with your kid as well, and show them where your body feels sore or hurts when you’re angry. After you identify where those places are, color them red for anger or frustration. Tell your child that when these places start to feel red or hurt, their body is telling them to get help in a frustrating moment.
- Keep track
Learn what causes the frustration! All kids are different, but there are a few common triggers that can cause frustration in kids:
- Negative peer interactions
- Challenging academics, even cutting with scissors can be frustrating
- Feeling misunderstood by peers or adults
- Lack of control
- Unexpected situations
After your child experiences a meltdown or a frustrating situation, sit down with your child and talk with them about it. Make a note of what happened before the event, the time of day and what happened during the meltdown.
- Make a “mad” list
For kids, they don’t know how to express their feelings when they’re frustrated. Venting is one way to cope with how we feel, but children don’t know they need to talk about their feelings, so they express them in tantrums or screaming and flailing in the moment.
Sit down with your child and ask them to name all the things that make them mad. Write it down on a piece of paper, and provide understanding! Kids need to feel heard and understood. A simple “Oh, that makes me mad, too!” shows that you understand how they feel.
Once the list is finished, have your child tear the paper into tiny pieces and throw them into the air to release emotions.
- Stoplight Breathing
Deep breathing is a very powerful tool that can be used to help us calm down when emotions are running high. When deep breathing is done properly, it can calm senses and help your child work through the frustrating feelings without throwing a tantrum.
While deep breathing can be beneficial when done correctly, kids can tend to associate deep breathing with rapid breathing, which causes the opposite of what we want – calm!
To practice associating deep breathing with calmness, have your child sit comfortably somewhere and to relax their muscles. Count to four while your child inhales, count to three while your child holds their breath, and then count to four while your child exhales. Have your child repeat this breathing exercise a few more times and practice regularly!
After your kid gets a handle on the deep breathing exercises, it’s time to teach the stoplight! A majority of kids know that red means stop, yellow means slow, and green means go. Teach them to visualize a red light when they’re experiencing frustration. Once they can see the red light and realize they’re experiencing anger or frustration, remind them to practice their deep breathing skills. This tool should be able to help them self-regulate their emotions.