Sometimes children have feelings they experience intensely, but do not understand. You can help your child learn to modulate their feelings better if you take the step to help them identify how they feel, when and why. More on feelings and the brain can be found in Chapter 8 The Caveman and The Thinker in my first book, The Family Coach Method.
In my practice, I use anger mountain to help children delineate what happened, how they felt about the experience, what they thought about the event and what they could have done to calm down, not escalate.
HOW IT WORKS
Imagine that a child climbs anger (this can also be energy or anxiety) mountain when things do not go their way. Some children escalate very quickly. Other children can self-regulate and walk down the mountain without letting their anger become uncontrolled. Some children hang out near the top of Anger Mountain, feeling agitated, frustrated, anxious and annoyed. In fact, I have known children who climb up anger mountain, scream and yell and just simply fall apart and then are calm for days afterward (it’s like a neurobiological reset flooding the body with endorphins).
Managing one’s intense feelings is learned. Separating out what causes one to escalate (the event) and what they think or feel about the event (it’s what we think and feel that makes us climb) is useful throughout a lifetime.
On the printable above, we have three columns. On the left we have triggers that made us escalate, in the middle we have colored boxes where the child can write key words for calming down and on the right we have the activities or actions we can do to experience calm (breathe, do yoga, walk backwards, ask for help). So literally we are writing what made us climb anger mountain on the left side and what helped us calm down on the right.
On the left side of the mountain we write down experiences that make us go from a sense of calm (blue) to agitated annoyed or frustrated. Labeling different feelings and experiences as colors helps kids understand and communicate how they feel. “I feel happy and live in blue when I am playing with my friends or reading with dad.” “I feel bugged and green when mom says stop what you are doing and come eat dinner.” “I feel pink or a bit red when I get a sandwich I hate for lunch,” and so on.
On the right side of the mountain we write down calming “skills” that could help us climb back down Anger Mountain before we explode. “When I feel orange because my mom told me I cannot go outside, I can play with my trains or go ride my bike.” The middle colored area is where we put key words like “Don’t take it personally.” “Let my mind be flexible.” “Choose another activity.” “How I feel is my choice.” These are like little rescue sentences for the child’s brain to hold on to instead of escalating.
With younger children, I tell them that their feelings are like a choo-choo train. Their train is happiest when it is “in the station.” When their train is in the station, they feel calm, they enjoy playing, they have fun in family activities and they enjoy their friends. But, sometimes things happen that take our trains out of the station. A friend breaks our sand castle, or our mom says we have to put away our toys, or our sister calls our artwork “dumb.” This makes our train rev up and zoom out of the station and up the mountain.
It doesn’t have to about trains in a station…it could be flowers in the garden, fishies in the ocean. Any metaphor that suits your family will do. What you are doing for your child is giving him the thoughts, words and actions he can’t find on his own. Try this at home or in school, make it your own! Let us know how it goes @drlynnekenney on twitter or PINTEREST.