Managing Strong Emotions
In today's video, we have Dr. Claire Thomas-Duckwitz. Dr. Thomas-Duckwitz is licensed as both a psychologist and as a school psychologist in Colorado, she specializes in working with kids and adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism learning disabilities, sensory issues, or ADHD. In addition to providing therapy and evaluations for individuals, she also provides training and consultation for parents and organizations in order to maximize the developmental potential of this population. She also works part-time in a local school district and as an adjunct faculty member of the university of Northern Colorado. Let's see what dr. Claire has to say about helping children manage emotions.
Dr. Claire Thomas-Duckwitz (00:42):
Hi, I'm Claire. I'm going to talk to you about managing strong emotions today. So one of the first things I think we need to do is define terms. So what is an emotion? Emotion has two parts. It has the physiological state that we experience, and it also has a subjective feeling state. So if I feel sad I might know that I'm feeling sad and I might feel it in my body feeling it in a sort of like it's hard to move. It's hard to process information. My shoulders might feel like they're down. So helping kids understand that emotions have two parts. It's one of the first things that we can do. And I'm going to get to that in a little bit. The first thing I want to talk about though is setting the stage for success. So it's really important that kids have a consistent routine that they aren't hungry so that they haven't gone too long without a snack or a meal.
Dr Claire Thomas-Duckwitz (01:39):
And that they're not fatigued. So ensuring that kids are getting adequate sleep. And part of that might be monitoring electronics, especially for adolescents. So once we set the stage for that, then we can start talking about what do we do when strong emotions happen. And so the first thing I want to talk about with, within the realm of responding to strong emotions is that when kids are experiencing strong emotions, it's important for us to be calm and self-regulated. It's also important once they're in a place where they can process the emotion that we help them identify what that emotion was. So it might just feel like big upset reaction that took over and they may feel like there's, it's kind of chaotic and there's no order to that. So what we can do is help them identify that. So, Oh, it seems like maybe you were feeling kind of disappointed because we were supposed to go to like the pool party, but then it got canceled.
Dr Claire Thomas-Duckwitz (02:45):
Do you think that maybe you felt disappointed and mad because I noticed dah, dah, dah, dah, and so helping kids notice that is actually very important for brain development? And so one of the things that we know for kids and that's important is integration. So when we are talking about pairing the words of what that feeling is, identifying it, sad, mad, happy, disappointed, whatever, and w while they're experiencing that state, or while they remember that state we're horizontally integrating the brain. So it means that we're, there's this sort of right-brain chaotic experience, and we're giving the words in order to it. And sometimes kids really need that external piece to give the order to it. They may not be able to figure that out on their own. So we have to walk them through that in a calm and self-regulated way.
Dr Claire Thomas-Duckwitz (03:37):
So just so it kind of in summary develop, like when we're helping kids identify feelings, it's actually helping with brain development. Okay. So then the other thing is helping kids at a basic level, understand and notice the physiological sensations associated with emotions. So, one thing that can be really helpful is daily mindfulness. A lot of kids don't want to do that because it's kind of boring, you know? And so it's really important that we set that experience up for success as well. So it might need to be an app that has like animation to at first it might need to be very short, mindfulness practice, like once a day for two minutes, it should be consistent. So at the same time, every day, a really great way to make sure that happens is pairing it with something else. It's part of a routine, okay.
Dr Claire Thomas-Duckwitz (04:29):
I brush my teeth and then I do mindfulness that will help kids remember. And then of course, parents being the external cue to help kids to remember to do it. And once they are doing mindfulness every day, they're going to be more aware internally of how they're doing. One thing that can be a little tricky is the breathing piece can be hard in terms of, for little kids being able to do it correctly. And so we may need it, it may be helpful to watch like a YouTube video or something else if kids are someone else breathing and then practicing that first another thing sort of like mindfulness is this idea of biofeedback. So biofeedback is something that can help us get a sense of how we're doing in the moment. Okay. I have this strong emotion. This is exactly what it feels like.
Dr Claire Thomas-Duckwitz (05:15):
And so we're constantly, we're getting that feedback over and over and over again when we have a strong emotion and then the sensation. So once when we're doing that again, thinking about brain development, we're helping to develop neural pathways that are helping kids to become aware of what it feels like when they have a certain emotion. So this is really important because for a lot of kids, there's a trigger. There's a thing for everyone. There's a trigger that happens first. The thing that makes them respond in a strong way, right? And then there's the actual response to the actual manifestation of that strong emotion, a meltdown, whatever you want to call it. And a lot of times that window is very narrow and we want to make that window wider. And so by doing this over and over again, becoming aware of how they are doing internally, we can make that window wider.
Dr Claire Thomas-Duckwitz (06:08):
Once the window is wider, we have more opportunity for something called top-down interventions, which are things like self-talk and behavioral interventions, like I'm going to go take a walk. We want to make that window wider so that then they can adapt and use those higher level type skills. Okay. So I talked a little bit about helping kids to identify feelings, but I think the way we talk to or emotions, I think the way we talk to kids about emotions is also really important. So usually when kids are experiencing one strong emotion, there's another emotion there too. So the example I give kids is lightning and thunder. So usually, or not usually often, if we're out like in a storm, we might feel or see like a quick flash of lightning. And then we're like, is that lightning? And, and then we hear the thunder and we know that, okay, indeed, that was lightning.
Dr Claire Thomas-Duckwitz (06:58):
Cause we noticed the thunder, right. And feelings can be a bit like that too. So if I'm, if I feel disappointed because somebody said something hurtful to me and they were my friend, maybe you felt disappointed in her. That might be like a quick flash emotion like that, that lightning. And then I might subsequently feel angry. And that anger is what I noticed like the thunder. And I think if we can help kids to notice that there is usually one or more, that there's usually more than one emotion, and that the other emotions might not be as obvious, then we can help them process things in a different way. So the other thing is teaching kids that emotions aren't good or bad, they're comfortable and uncomfortable emotions have a purpose. They tell us if something's okay or not. Okay. And so seeing them as something that helps us to get through life is, and that is valuable to us, I think is really important.
Dr Claire Thomas-Duckwitz (07:50):
The trick is just how do we then manage them so that they aren't in charge. They were in charge of our emotions. They're not in charge of us. Okay. So once we've done these types of things, then we can start to get into things like, you know, positive self-talk and noticing the negative self-talk coloring, taking a walk, listening to music, going to your room, the higher-level type strategies work a lot better once kids are regulated. But one of the things that I think is most important is how the caregivers are doing. So the big thing is that caregivers are able to regulate themselves. So if the adults are calm and self-regulated, then the kids have a better shot at being calm and self-regulated too. So that's true for teachers. Of course, coaches, whoever kids they're interacting with. And obviously, we all lose our temper.
Dr Claire Thomas-Duckwitz (08:44):
And you know, when that happens, we can try to repair it and say, well, this happened, I felt this way. What I should have done was this, I'm sorry. So owning our behavior, being responsible for our own behaviors and talking really about what that was like and how it really is sometimes hard to manage strong emotions. Sometimes if we feel they're like, if we're able to at least manage ourselves to some extent and we're having strong emotions, we can also narrate that we're having a hard time right now. This is really hard for me. Like I'm feeling disappointed because of this and angry and I'm really, you know, my muscles are tight and I'm really afraid I'm going to say, or do something I regret. I think I just need to go take some space. And so what we're doing then is modeling positive self-talk and behavioral strategies for kids. And they can even almost take that and have that become their own self-talk or behavioral strategy. And so that's really it.
Make sure to watch the full documentary on childhood emotions. You'll learn how to help your child manage their own emotions. You'll learn about your own emotions and how they affect your child. And you'll learn simple ways of helping children improve behavior.
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