Responding to your child’s over-sized emotions can often have a calming effect on your child if you handle it right and know what signs to look for. Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, co-author of The Whole Brain Child, talks about 10 Brain-Based Strategies to Help Children Handle Their Emotions in her presentation, “10 Brain-Based Strategies to Help Children Handle Their Emotions: Bridging the Gap Between What Experts Know and What Happens at Home & School.” Here’s what Dr. Bryson recommends:
- Be emotionally responsive (Short term: calms the brain down. Long term: builds the brain.) See your child’s actual experience. Focus on the feelings, not the behaviors (if only responding to the behaviors and not the feeling, it’s like treating the symptom without addressing the cause.) “I can see you’re really disappointed you can’t ___.”
- Communicate comfort rather than threat. Use YOUR body language: Don’t just get down on your child’s level, get “below eye level.” This can help them feel calmer. What to say: “You’re having such a hard time, I’m right here with you.” or “You’re so unhappy, do you need anything?” Focus on emotion, not behavior in the moment. When your child is upset, they are not in a teachable place.
- Decrease emotional reactivity with a sensory/motor lens. Read your child’s nonverbal language cues for what they need. Do they have a lot of energy and need to jump for a few minutes before starting homework? Do they need a timer to warn them when an activity is almost over or it’s bedtime? Talk to an occupational therapist about tools for the car or before bedtime.
- Be curious. We adults make a lot of assumptions. Do we really know why a child is acting the way they are? We probably have a theory! But, be curious. Challenge your initial assumption. Don’t interrogate, but be genuine: “Hmm, I’m really curious why you____. Why did you__?” Ask yourself if the “maladaptive (bad/poor) behavior” might be purposeful or behavior with a meaning?
- Wait for a teachable moment. Is your child tired, hungry, angry, sad, in a tantrum? When your child is very upset, they are not in a teachable moment. You can set the boundary of not talking about it in the moment, then talk about it when they and you are ready.
For all ten strategies, check out Dr. Tina Payne Bryson’s DVD available for sale: 10 Brain-Based Strategies to Help Children Handle Their Emotions: Bridging the Gap Between What Experts Know and What Happens at Home & School.
By: Carrie Johnson, CCC-SLP
Carrie is a Speech Therapist at Valley’s Children’s Therapy Clinic