No parent is a stranger to the often intense and overwhelming outbursts of a child. But when children experience the strong emotions that propel their behavior, many parents also wonder just how to help them, and more importantly, how to teach them how to manage these emotions.
In Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Kids: A DBT-Based Skills Workbook to Help Children Manage Mood Swings, Control Angry Outbursts, and Get Along with Others, Jennifer J. Solin, PsyD, and Christina L. Kress MSW provide parents and children with an invaluable guide for understanding and regulating emotions.
Drawing on the proven efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, Solin and Kress begin by helping children understand how their minds work.
“Your mind is like a muscle. If you practice focusing your mind, it will become stronger and you will notice that you are able to focus more on the things that you want to focus on. We call this being mindful,” they write.
The mind, Solin and Kress contend, is comprised of different thoughts, as well as different types of thoughts. Children can have thoughts about facts, and thoughts about feelings, and can also make decisions about these things.
To help children decipher which thoughts are helpful and which are not, the authors ask children to first identify their thoughts and then explain why they think they are helpful, or not so helpful. They also aim to teach kids that facts and feelings are not the same.
“Reviewing the facts of a situation can help us figure out what can change and what is out of our control. The facts of a situation are often out of our control, but we do have some control over how we feel about it,” they write.
Encouraging children to understand the difference between facts and feelings, the authors ask readers to look at a situation and separate out the facts from the feelings. Then in a fun exercise, children are told to fill a jar with rocks that represent the facts.
“Do you see empty spaces between your rocks? That is where your feelings will fit,” they write.
After emptying the jar, Solin and Kress direct their readers to refill the jar with sand.
“Then try to put the rocks back in. Do they fit? They usually won’t fit the same way if your jar is already filled with sand,” they write.
Feelings can be both big and small, and noticing and understanding them is a first step to gaining control of them. To help children do this, the authors offer a variety of exercises for each feeling.
“Anger is a feeling that is meant to help you protect yourself and those you care about. Anger can also help you define your goals. When someone or something tries to block your goal, you might get angry,” they write.
For each emotion, children are given clear, easy to understand explanations of what causes the emotion, typical reactions to the emotion, and then asked to write or draw about how the emotion feels to them.
Feelings also have a clear purpose. They provide information, offer protection, and help keep us safe. Through learning to identify the feelings as intense or small, and understanding their purpose, children can also learn to better control them.
“When you have intense feelings, it can feel as if they take over and you have no choice but to physically act out. The truth is, you can have an intense feeling and not let that feeling take control of your physical actions. When you take the time to observe and describe your feeling, you can think about what actions will be more helpful,” they write.
To help separate the event from the consequent feeling and urge to react, Solin and Kress use a helpful chart where children can choose from a variety of other, non harmful ways to respond. As thoughtful preparation often yields better responses, the authors encourage their readers to plant SEEDS in their garden – an acronym to help children remember to get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, exercise on most days, have downtime, and socialize with others.
As children can also often become preoccupied with distressing events, the authors provide a helpful exercise they call DISTRACT – which stands for do something else, imagine being somewhere else, tune into your senses, think about something else, read a book, do an art project, play a computer game, or try a new game.
“You don’t always get to have things your way, and when things don’t go your way, it can be very frustrating,” they write.
In order to help children cope, they provide another helpful acronym, DEAL, which encourages children to take deep breaths, examine their options, ask themselves what is most important right now, and listen to their full mind and do their best.
Filled with encouraging words, fun and effective exercises, and clear, age appropriate information, Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Kids is an indispensable guide for any child. Not only does it help them understand and regulate their emotions and behavior, it also helps kids develop their own set of skills to manage them.
Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Kids: An Instant Self-Help Book for Parents and Kids
Jennifer J. Solin Psy.D., Christina L. Kress, MSW
Softcover, 152 Pages