Kids Feel “Out of Control” When Angry and How We Can Help

Emotions can be very strong and feel overwhelming at times, and this is especially true for children. Depending on their developmental level, they may not fully understand what the feeling is, what it is called, why they feel that way or what caused it, and especially how to handle the feelings. It’s up to us as adults to recognize this emotional immaturity and help them to grow.

About a month ago, I was introduced to The Home Teacher’s series of anger management activities called “Don’t Be An Angry Bird.” These are brilliant exercises that incorporate the popular Angry Bird characters into teaching kids about types of anger and various coping skills. They are so fun. All I had to do was hang a picture of the various angry birds up in my room and the curious kids actually initiated the discussion!

Here is a picture of the different types of angry birds.

Side note: For the “Angry Eyes” Bird, I have the kids show me their angry eyes and I show them mine. We have a good laugh at one another! 🙂

So, of all these different types of “birds,” which one would you choose to represent your anger? Which one do you think kids choose most to describe their anger? I have done this activity with at least 10 kids and 9 have chosen the BODY OUT OF CONTROL bird to describe how they perceive themselves when they are angry. I find this fascinating and insightful!

This activity has reinforced the idea that kids are still very new to the big world of feelings. Emotions can be strong and often overwhelming, and for little ones, it’s magnified. Depending on their developmental level, they may not fully understand what the feeling is, what it is called, why they feel that way or what caused it, and especially how to handle the feelings.

The “terrible two’s” is a prime example of what it looks like when feelings are new and the body feels out of control. A toddler will scream, stomp their feel, stiffen their body, roll around on the ground, and run around the room. It’s obvious they are feeling out of control. Consider this the starting point in a child’s emotional development. Over time, they begin to recognize the feelings and learn some self-control. However, it’s not until adulthood (hopefully) that they are fully mature in this emotional development.

So how can we help our kids in their path to emotional maturity?

  1. Validate the child’s feelings. Let them know their feelings are normal and acceptable (even if their current expression of those emotions is not).
  2. Give their feelings a name. Anytime you have an opportunity, label the feelings you observe in the child and help them to label their feelings as well.
  3. Encourage them to verbalize their feelings out loud with I-statements (I’m mad, sad, etc…).
  4. Teach them appropriate coping skills. Keep in mind that modeling these skills is the best teaching tool!!

I will end with a favorite quote from Yoda for all the Littles out there struggling with these Great Big Feelings!

“Control, Control, You must learn control!”

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A Few Simple Tips on Handling Transitions with Your Kids

You’re finishing up your coffee talk at your best friend’s house while your kids play joyously together in the next room. When it’s time to go, you get that sick feeling in your stomach because it means another battle with your little one. Every time you have to end one activity and go on to the next, whether it be outside time, school, or nap time, you never know how big of a fight you will have to put up. When kids don’t transition well, it is draining on the parents and any other person involved in the care taking. From a kid’s perspective, imagine you are engrossed in your favorite hobby or really good book and someone interrupts you to tend to something else. OK, who are we kidding? Most parents experience this every day! So, you know how frustrating that can be and hard it is to pull yourself away. For kids, it’s even worse because they don’t see the bigger picture, it is not by choice, and they don’t yet have the skills to deal with these emotions and disappointments. Hopefully I can offer a few tips to make these moments a little smoother. If you have tried any others, please share!

  • Give them a warning of the upcoming transition. Let them know they have 5 minutes left, then 3 minutes. A visual works best in this case because kids are not the best judges of time. You can also use quantities, such as “you can go down the swing two more times,” or “after your turn on the game it will be time to leave.” Here are some options for the visual timers. I use the simple egg timer, sand timer, or the alarm on my phone (nothing fancy with me!).

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  • Make transitions as short as needed, depending on your child’s needs and developmental level. For example, if I have a kid who really struggles with leaving the play room, I may tell him we are first going to walk to the edge of the stairs. Once we are there, I check in with him again and point to where we are going next. Eventually, this child will not need such small increments, but we need to meet the child where they are, not where we think they should be.
  • Give them verbal praise for small progresses they make in transitions. If your child usually takes 5 times of your telling him to do something, but today he only took 4, tell him you noticed how he listened and went faster today! If your child usually tantrums, full blown on the ground, but today it was more of a whine but no tantrum, give them verbal praise for keeping himself calm and following you quicker today.
  • Make the next stop exciting if possible. For example, if you are leaving a play date to get lunch, tell them “We get to go to Chick-fil-a and you can pick out the strips or the sandwich!” This gives them something to look forward to. If it is something like going to school, say “let’s go show Ms. Nancy your drawing you did this morning!”
  • For bigger transitions, like moving to a new house, having a new baby, or getting a dog, talk to them about what will happen. I also recommend reading books to them or doing an art activity. I talked with one mom who was worried about their upcoming move into a new house. She decided to draw a picture of the new house with her daughter and said she could see her getting really excited, especially when she drew her own room!
 Again, I hope I am able to give you some easy tips to try with transitions. Please feel free to share any others you have tried and any other questions or comments you have!
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Using Signs to Teach Your Toddler About Feelings

As a counselor, I spend a lot of time teaching kids how to identify and communicate their feelings. So when my son Max (14 months) was having a meltdown this weekend, I realized that now is the time to start giving him words (akasigns) to express those emotions. Now is the time to start teaching him there is a word for these feelings he is having and that it’s normal to feel angry, frustrated, etc. So, I opened up my baby sign book and dug out the feelings cards. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not under any fantasies that Max will no longer tantrum or tantrum  any less fiercely, but this is an important first step in teaching my son about his feelings.

I use a book titled Baby Sign Language by Karine Shemel Rosenberg. It comes with colorful flashcards and information on the benefits of signing and how and when to start signing with your baby. Here are the feelings flashcards in this book. You can also see where to purchase this book and see my comments and others at my  Goodreads review.

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Applying similar techniques I use when teaching more verbal children about feelings, I can start teaching my young toddler. Here are a few simple things I’ll be focused on:

– Choose which signs you want to focus on, learn them yourself, and get other caregivers (nanny, grandparent, etc) involved. The more exposure to the signs the better.

At the moment he shows the feeling (angry, sad, happy) say and sign the feeling using an empathetic tone.

– At the moment we see others expressing that feeling, especially another child, say and sign the feeling.
– When he is angry, help him learn to calm himself down by modeling a calm state and offering something that may help calm him such as a quiet room, favorite toy, or affection.
– When he calms, tell him “good job calming yourself down.” This sends the message he has control of his emotions.

It is never too early (or too late) to start using these techniques with your child. Their little brains are constantly taking in information and forming connections about their environment and learning behaviors from those around them. Applying these techniques can also take time to get used to, but will be second nature before you know it.

Max is learning his signs quite well these days, communicating his wants and needs to those around him. I am so happy to see when he is able use these signs rather than become upset. If you have been a parent of young children, you understand how frustrating it can be (for baby and you) when they have to fuss because they don’t know any other way to communicate their needs. There is a lot of literature that stands behind the wonderful emotional and psychological benefits of babies learning sign language. I’ll add some resources below to learn more about infant signing.

I have already started teaching these feeling signs and when Max gets the hang of them, I will post a follow up and let you know how it has worked out. If you have already been down this road, I would love to hear about your experience too!

http://www.babysignlanguage.com/ is a fantastic  website to check out. They offer a lot of information on signing, free flash cards, and even have video to show you how to do some of the more complicated signs.

http://signingbaby.com/main/index.php is also a good resource. There are videos of babies signing as well as an index of words.

For a good book, check out Baby Sign Language by clicking on my Goodreads review on the right hand side of this blog. Just above the Goodreads link, click on my Vodpod link to find videos I like. There is a really good video showing a baby signing for her mom. So cute!