Friday, March 24, 2017

Managing Anger

    Powerful emotions such as anger can be scary and overwhelming for anyone to feel. Anger comes over us when we feel we have been wronged, threatened, or prevented from doing something we want to do.  Children who have hurt feelings, are frightened, are overwhelmed or feel embarrassed may be quick to feel angry.  Sometimes these emotions are on a shorter fuse when people feel tired or hungry.  Even though anger can seem scary or feel uncomfortable, it’s important to recognize that there is value in feeling angry.   Anger can be positive when it leads us to respond to a situation taken action towards positive change.  It also encourages children to be more persistent in solving problems.  This lecture overview will focus on how we, as adults, can help children manage and express their anger in safe and healthy ways through the use of positive discipline, modeling behaviors, and using calming tools.   
Using positive discipline provides children with a model which is kind and respectful. Positive discipline also helps to reduce triggers and provides calm environments to communicate feelings as they work on problem-solving.  Positive discipline involves using more positive statements than negative statements.  When we use anger in a hurtful and negative way the situation can become worse rather than better.  A negative tone can start a corrosive cycle; a child becomes as horrible as possible until someone gives in.  Some children may even skip the cycles and go right to explosive behaviors.  To overcome a negative cycle it is important to catch children being good.  It’s helpful to make five positive statements for every negative statement.  Another approach that works well is rephrasing what you say, in a positive way by telling what it is you expect or want rather than what you don’t want.  For example, the dishes need to go into the sink after dinner instead of don’t leave your plate on the table.  Also, spending 15 minutes each day with a child on a child lead activity without demands helps to build a connection with children establishing a more positive and cooperative relationship.
Are there times when your child is more reactive, impulsive, or emotional.  Note times  of day or events when angry feelings are expressed.  By identifying triggers it may be possible to make adjustments to minimize those times when a child may be overwhelmed, tired, hungry, or sick.  You may even ask your child for suggestions when they are calm to solve problems around triggers.  The goal is to work towards cooperation rather than power struggles.  
Think about how you would respond to a good boss vs. a bad boss who yells, nags, and micro manages.  Which boss would you collaborate with to solve problems?  To collaborate with your child state what you would like to see, ask for cooperation with a positive response, and give a direction with choices.  Using when... then…. statements to help children anticipate what will happen.  “When you get your homework done, then you may go on the computer. “ Use timeouts as a break away from the moment to reflect.  Turn the activity into a game, help them, use a sense of humor and be silly.  Meet the child’s momentum; don’t have them drop what they are doing sometimes the last minute notice can be a challenge.  Instead, give a five minute warning or set limits.  You could say, “Shoot three more baskets and then come inside.”  This warning can reduce strong feelings about stopping an activity.
Adults modeling a calm behavior helps to maintain authority and respect.  Yelling gives away authority, and scolding gives attention in a negative way.  Make positive statements and verbal observations when children move in the right direction.  Remember to be respectful in return and thank them for their efforts.  Describe what you see and why it’s good.  State how it helps others and label personal strengths.
When solving problems remember to do the right thing even when a grown up is not around.  An approach to collaborative problem solving is to learn to become more tolerant and flexible.  This is done by communicating and collaborating.  In general there are three styles of disciplining according to Ross Green.  These styles include imposing adult rule, collaboration, and removing all expectations.  His recommendation is to focus on a collaborative style to help build an individual’s ability to problem solve.  Collaboration allows an opportunity for guidance and growth.  When collaborating with a child first restate the issue, acknowledging the child’s concern to show you understand.  Next define the problem and present two concerns the child and your concern.  For example you may have a safety concern the child did not bring up.  Finally invite the child to solve the problem by asking, “How can we work it out?  That’s one solution, but it doesn’t solve the other concern.  What else could we do?”  Remember to check your own emotions, having empathy for your child can reduce adult anger.
Another helpful tip is to create a calming box.  A calming box is filled with items that are pleasing to the senses to reduce stress.  It might include mints, gum, pictures, postcards, photos, feathers, soft fabrics or even a scented candle for aroma (you don’t even need to light it).  Children may open this box and use the materials to self-calm.
When faced with a child using a rude tone of voice try saying, “You know how to talk to me if you want me to listen.”  When the child uses a calm voice you can change your response to match their words.  If they continue to use a rude voice you may recommend another choice or give them a timeout to prevent the situation from escalating.  
Angry kids need connection not punishment, that is why collaboration can be an effective tool for problem solving.  In addition, adults can model kindness and respect to children so they will learn from your example ways to manage their responses to stress and anger. Remember to have compassion and forgiveness for yourself and your child.

Kennedy-Moore, E. (2014).  Raising Emotionally and Socially Healthy Kids. Lecture presented at The Great Courses in Virginia, Chantilly.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Dealing with Childhood Anxiety

Dealing with Childhood Anxiety  

        Childhood is often seen as a carefree time in life.  Even so, anxiety can be found in children of all ages.  There are times when children feel overwhelmed with fear about the future in daily situations.  There may be worry around getting hurt, death, news, and peer relationships. One in five children has severe anxiety which can benefit from treatment from a mental health therapist.  The child’s anxiety may rub off on adults causing them to be more anxious adding to the intensity of the feeling in the child.  Adults may feel drained trying to deal with the child’s stress which may lead to impatient responses from the adult.  These reactions are normal, but not helpful.  To change we need to think about our interactions. To help children manage and cope, parents can help children deal with anxiety by encouraging them to be brave, spending quality time with the child during a noncompetitive interaction, teaching children about the physical symptoms of anxiety, providing an environment for healthy sleep habits, and by helping them to understand their thinking and feelings around anxiety.  Parents help children work through anxiety by acting as a compassionate and motivating coach.
        One proven way to reduce anxiety in children is for adults to spend five minutes of quality time with a child each day.  Studies have shown that giving a child 100% of your attention for as little as five minutes a day can make a difference in how the child manages anxiety.  When children are given full attention enjoy the child’s company by participating in an activity which is not demanding or competitive.  This may involve drawing, creating a story, cooking together with the child as the “head chef”, taking a hike, or playing with blocks.   He focus should be on the child and their interests without any judgment.  During these focused times avoid competitive activities, asking lots of questions, criticizing, or giving instructions.  Following the child’s lead in an activity can be comforting for a child. This direct attention creates a caring and relaxed environment.  Have your interactions fit the acronym PRIDE to create a supportive and non competitive environment for the five minutes.
Praise appropriate behavior.
Reflect on child’s comments
Imitate the child’s actions to show interest.
Describe what the child is doing.
Express enthusiasm about the time spent together.
The number one indication of success depends on how much the parents mirror the child in an age appropriate way.  Kids talk more without direct eye contact, so an activity which involves side by side work is generally a good time for meaningful conversations.  Talks during car rides can be a great time for conversations and connecting with your child. Establishing a strong relationship will help parents coach children as they deal with fear and anxiety.
         Creating a sense of security prior to risk taking is another way parents can help children to be successful in overcoming anxiety.  Instead of escaping from a stressful situation, children need to learn to tolerate some stress.  Tolerating a fear helps them get through the situation rather than avoid it.  Be a supportive coach by encouraging your child to complete the activity.   Learning to cope with life’s challenges helps to develop strong adults.  Use compassion and gentle nudging as your child works through anxiety creating situations.  
Physical symptoms, behaviors, and thoughts around anxiety are very real.  By helping your child recognize physical symptoms of anxiety, children learn that these sensations are a natural response to perceived threats.  Explain to your child that when they feel anxious they may notice symptoms such as increased heart rate, clammy hands, tight and knotted stomach, and/or shaky legs.  Wait it out; the physical response will acclimate and recede.  Elevated emotions in this state are hard to sustain. Awareness of the physical symptoms helps us to better understand the signs and helps individuals overcome fear around the physical signs.
It is beneficial to practice slow belly breathing as this is one of the most effective ways to calm the body when experiencing symptoms of stress.  Place one hand on belly and slowly breathe; the belly should move out like a balloon when you breathe in and deflate like a balloon as you breathe out.  It’s important to practice relaxing breaths when the body is calm in order for it to be more effective when you feel stressed.
Keep in mind that anxiety is a sign getting ready for a challenge.  Some level of anxiety is a useful tool.  If you are either too relaxed or too stressed it will be more difficult to do a task well.  Think of a baseball player at bat.  If you are too relaxed the arm will be limp when the ball reaches the bat.  If you are tense, the hit will be rigid.  It is best to be focused and aware, but not too relaxed or too tense.   The same is true for taking a test or any other activity which requires focused attention.  A moderate level of anxiety helps us to focus on important information.  The goal is to avoid becoming overwhelmed by anxiety.
Sleep has an impact on levels of anxiety.  Elementary children should get 10 to 11 hours of sleep.  Lack of sleep intensifies anxiety, which can create a cycle interrupting healthy sleep habits.  Anxious kids struggle to sleep.  Sleep is a necessity; eventually the body will sort it out.  Remind your child that the body will take care of itself.  They don’t need to worry about it.  When children struggle to fall asleep tell them to lay quietly with their eyes closed.  Eventually they will get some sleep.  It is common for people to take 45 minutes to fall asleep.  
When children rest quietly, encourage them to think of fun and interesting things.  Talking about not getting enough sleep when you go to bed will keep you from sleeping.  It is more helpful to have other lighter things to think about.  Create a list of things to think about such as fun thoughts during rest time.  Another step to creating healthy sleep habits involves following a routine.  Plan to have quiet time before bed, talk about fun events being planned, or invent a story or talk about favorite characters as part of the bedtime ritual.  Establish routines by both going to bed and getting up at the same time each day.  If a child wants to talk about their worries before bed, have them write it down and put it in a worry box to be discussed at another time.  Problems seem bigger when we are tired; this is not the time for stressful topics.  Consistent bedtime routines will help develop healthy sleeping habits in addition to reducing daily stress.
To understand the strong feelings and thoughts surrounding anxiety, it is important to remember that anxiety comes from a primitive response to anxiety provoking sensations. The anxiety response alerts the brain that danger is near.  To protect itself the section of the brain called the amygdala signals the body to freeze, flee, fight.   This response is important in emergencies.  However, sometimes we have false alarms and think there is danger when there is no life threatening danger.  It helps children to name what is happening with the brain.  The only trouble is there is no danger; it’s more of a discomfort.
Here are some examples of how the freeze, flee or fight response might look in children when they experience fear or anxiety.  It’s also easy for kids to make connections to these behaviors and animals.  When children stare at empty pages or read without remembering it is similar to a rabbit freezing and hiding in place.  Surfing the net, napping or work avoidance is like someone fleeing from the anxiety causing situation.  This can be related to a deer running from danger.  Fighting with parents or arguing over school work is like a wolf fighting to protect and push away the danger.  These are all examples of how primitive thinking occurs during stress induced situations as the brain responds to the anxiety.  These behaviors tend to be both automatic and self-defeating.
Avoiding stressful situations can increase anxiety.  Kids watch for cues from adults and peers as to know how they should behave in social situations.  If a parent is relaxed, it is easier for child to relax.  If we help the child escape a situation we send a message that it is too dangerous for them, encouraging an escape response.  Saying, “just get over it,” is not helpful or kind.  During these moments children need understanding and compassion.  Instead coach the child using small steps to move forward.  Orient the child towards bravery rather than getting rid of a response.  Bravery means doing something even though we are scared.   Children can become more self-assured by internalizing the message, “I can be brave.”  
Celebrate courageous acts by making small medals.  It could be a medal for bravery for saying hi to three people even though it was scary.  This recognition will help a child realize that they are capable of doing brave things.  Ask children to think about their goals.  What do they want?  What matters to them?  How can they move towards something even though they are scared?  Plan and make new situations predictable to give a sense of control.  Script a conversation or what to say.  Plan steps of what to do in social event, including look to see what others are doing.  If a child is fearful of people in costumes build tolerance by finding pictures of other people in costumes, take a photo of the child in costume, or watch a parade of people in costumes slowly building a level of comfort.  With each step or activity stay near your child in the situation until it no longer seems scary.  If a child resist these steps parents should gradually and lovingly cut down on how they help out.  Let them know you will gradually spread out the frequency of a response to a call for support.
Children need to develop competency to manage some situations.  To deal with social anxiety students should learn ways to connect and interact with peers through specific conversation starters or role playing practice.  If the child experiences test anxiety it is time to learn additional and effective study skills. Sometimes adults taking a step back from the situation encourages kids to figure it out.  When adults say, “I’ll take care of it,” the message sent tells kids they can’t handle it.  This takes away the opportunity to develop coping skills. Allowing children to develop their own solutions, shows you trust them to solve life’s problems.  
Thoughts also provoke anxiety.  “When you can imagine it, it can happen’” is the thought process for some anxious children.  Kids become scared of their own thoughts.  The more you think about it, the more you think about it.  If you are told not to think about it most people will think about that exact thought.  Remind your child that thoughts are not dangerous.  Have them try this activity.  Imagine your thumbs turning green.  Now open your eyes.  Ask them if their fingers turned green?  It’s not likely.  Children are in charge of their imaginations.  Ask the kids if it is likely to happen?  Now try making up fun things to imagine or silly things instead.  You could ask what’s in closet when they bring up fears.  
Teach the children to identify the difference between a thought and reality.  Have the child say the phrase, “I have the thought that…” in front of a scary idea or worry.  For example, "I have the thought that I’ll be embarrassed at the party."  Be aware of the thought and let it float by (don’t hang onto it).  Telling the child nothing bad will happen can make the thought stronger.  It might lead to thoughts around “what if this happens.”  Instead encourage your child to recognize the voice of anxiety in head.  The “anxious voice” is trying to boss you around.  To help kids consider trying the following ideas.  
Ask kids to evaluate the situation by using questions about how bad it would be if it happened on a scale of 1 to 10.  Consider how likely (not how easily imagined) it is to happen or how often in past year or 5 years has it happened.  Then consider if you should or even if you could do something about it.  Sometimes if it’s not bad or likely or if you can’t or shouldn’t do anything about it, let the thought go.  Dwelling on the thought makes us feel worse.  
With the use of positive self-talk individuals can be encouraged to cope with the situation.  “I handled hard things before I can handle this.”  Children shouldn’t need to fret about adult problems.  Look at what supports you have in place to help you if you need it.  Kids may want guarantees, but life is unpredictable.  We all need to be able to tolerate uncertainty.  
The way out of anxiety is through it.  Discourage avoiding anxiety provoking situations.  When under stress it is common to experience a response to freeze, flee or fight.  By avoiding the activities, feelings of stress are perpetuated.  To overcome the anxiety, have the adults model calm relaxed behaviors in the situation.  Children will feel calm, if and when the adult is calm.  
Think about bravery.  Gently support the child, while gradually cutting back on how much the adult accommodates the child with stress.  Work on improving skills to increase coping skills, ask relevant questions, and have the child develop solutions to the problem.  By focusing on bravery children can alter their thinking about the situation instead of avoiding thoughts.  
Name the anxiety.  When a child feels anxious, identify the anxiety and how to work with it.  Have the child ask himself questions such as, “How bad would it be if ….?”  “What is the chance of it happening?” or,”Could or should I do something about the situation?”  Then make a plan if action needs to take place to make the situation better or find ways to let the thought go.
    Have children use their internal voice to coach themselves through brave moments.  Coping with anxiety teaches kids to manage unpredictable situations.  Life is full of unpredictable events.  Learning to manage anxiety helps children learn to manage life.  

Kennedy-Moore, E. (2014).  Raising Emotionally and Socially Healthy Kids. Lecture presented at The Great Courses in Virginia, Chantilly.

Monday, January 30, 2017

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Counselor’s Corner by Mary Beth Langevin:
Inspired by the course, Raising Emotionally and Socially Healthy Kids, with Dr. Kennedy-Moore, my hope is to share information from the 12 lectures about different aspects of child development.  Please look for future overviews of the lectures in the school counselor web page blog on the school’s website.  I hope to put a bulleted version of highlights from the lectures in the weekly newsletters.  More information about the bulleted points will be in the blog with additional resources listed related to the topic of the week.   With that said, please keep in mind that I am available to answer questions about your growing and ever changing child.  Feel free to contact me in person, by phone (CES 454-7777 ext. 362 or EMES 223-7936 ext. 303) or with email (   If you would like more information on these suggestions, please check out my school counselor blog in the school website.

The Importance of Building Emotional Intelligence

Highlights from the lecture Developing Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence:
  • Emotional intelligence is the level of  understanding and response to feelings.
  • Children can learn to develop emotional intelligence by gaining emotional regulation skills which is how we express emotions.
  • Parents can act as emotion coaches to help students identify, acknowledge and process their feelings.
  • Emotion coaches label and acknowledge feelings (avoid applying your own interpretations)
  • Emotion coaches focus on coping with the situation by asking, What can be done to make the situation better?
  • Emotion coaches can help children find healthy distractions and encourage positive self-talk.  Suggest words to motivate.
  • At times children become emotionally flooded and have melt downs.  To weather a meltdown remove the child from the situation, wait for both body and voice to be calm (this can commonly take 20 minutes or longer), ease back into a conversation by making simple requests.  If the answer is yes, wait a few moments and make another simple request such as, would you like water?  Processing the situation comes when the child is completely calm and anything that needs to be cleaned up from the meltdown is picked up.
  • Work together to understand the perspective of the other people involved.
  • Remember the goal is to build communication, respect, and an ability to self-regulate emotions as the child matures.
To learn more about building emotional intelligence check out the full article in the school website's guidance blog.

The Importance of Building Emotional Intelligence

    Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, respond and adapt to emotional experiences within ourselves and others through self-regulation.  Emotional regulation is the foundation of emotional intelligence allowing us to understand, influence, and appropriately express emotional experiences.  Building emotional intelligence can be taught by helping children to recognize feelings and cope with emotions.  With improved emotional intelligence children learn to manage life’s challenges and emotional ups and downs. This helps children become strong independent adults weathering life’s trials and tribulations.  Parents can assist children by being “emotion coaches”.
    Parents who are “emotion coaches”  teach children to recognize their feelings by acknowledging feelings and labeling what they observe.  Once feelings are labeled and acknowledged, the “emotion coach” talks the children through ways they can cope with those feelings.  Parents may say, “you’re feeling worried about who will win the game.”  Avoid interpreting; instead simply describe and reflect the feeling back to the child.  By reflecting the words back to the child it gives the child language to work with and a common ground of understanding.  It also makes the emotional burden lighter for the child by showing them they are understood.  Next focus on coping with the situation and problem solving.  Ask the child, “What could you do?” or “What might help?”  Avoid asking why questions or questions that ask the child to explain what happened earlier during the coaching moment.  Elementary students may successfully move on from feeling the emotion to using healthy distractions or positive self-talk to cope with emotions.  
        When a child becomes emotionally aroused there are physiological signs, one being an increased heart rate.  During emotional arousal children can feel overwhelmed making it difficult to comprehend new ideas or information.  This creates a challenge for gaining perspective and problem solving.  To calm the aroused brain it is best to step away from the situation, if possible.  That goes for anyone who may be feeling emotionally aroused, infants through adults.  It may be best to wait out a meltdown.  This can take time as the physiological symptoms return to a calm state.  It may take 20 minutes or longer when a young child has a melt down and becomes emotionally flooded.  When the child begins to calm you can check on the situation by getting the child to agree to a small request, such as “Would you like a tissue?”   If the child agrees to the tissue, a few moments later see if they may like a glass of water.  These are small stepping stones to helping the child move on.  If they say yes to this, they may be ready to clean up any materials knocked over.  Say something like, “Let’s pick up the blocks.”  It is better not to point out that they made the mess, just state what needs to happen.
Later you can process the event.  First reflect on feelings.  Describe what you see.  “You’re feeling angry.”  Or you you could say you notice what they want by saying, “You want the toy.”  To show you understand them, start the sentence with the word you.  Reflections shows you understand and you care.  It also helps the child to learn to label and recognize their emotions.  If they say no (because you didn’t understand), simply try again.  Please note that if you try to solve the problems too quickly children often get louder when they do not feel heard.  
Next focus on coping with the situation.  Help your child think about moving forward.  Ask questions to guide them.  “What might help?” “What could you do?”  Avoid asking the child what or why they did it when moving forward towards problem solving.    
If you notice a pattern involving emotional flooding, such as time of day, try to change the routine to create a new ritual for the day.  Meltdowns often happen when children are tired, hungry or physically ill.  Empower your child by asking them for solutions to the routine change before there is another meltdown.  
    Children in the elementary years may experience a wide array of emotions as they navigate peer groups.  Parents can support their children by helping them to understand the  perspective of other children.  Parents are also able to offer helpful suggestions as the child works through problem solving options.
As children mature, emotional security shifts from the parents helping them to cope to building a wider resource of supports including parents, friends and even the wider community.  Parents remain the base of support, offering security and comfort when necessary, especially when children feel overwhelmed.  The role of “emotion coach” allows parents to build a level of communication and respect.
    To support the development of emotional intelligence parents can deliberately help children learn about feelings and how to manage them by being “emotional coaches”.  Parents can provide a secure, kind living environment which allows emotional regulation to flourish.  It is important for parents to also care for themselves by refueling and pausing to reflect on how precious families can be.

Kennedy-Moore, E. (2014).  Raising Emotionally and Socially Healthy Kids. Lecture presented at The Great Courses in Virginia, Chantilly.