The short version of this post, is that we cannot extinguish an emotional fire. Unless it's ready to be extinguished. In most cases, we have to just let it pass. Now that's highly inconvenient. But like in nature, a storm is just a storm. Nothing more, nothing less. It's only when that storm happens to pass over some hapless township and causes havoc that it becomes a disaster. The nature of the storm hasn't changed though. This is not dissimilar to what we observe when children (or adults for that matter) experience an emotional storm...once it starts, it is very difficult to stop.
So what can we do about it? Well we can work to understand it's nature for instance. What feeds the storm? What saps it of energy? What gives it momentum. If we can learn more about it's lifecycle, we can start to plan and put together a 'disaster kit' so to speak. We can do better though. Prevention is always better than cure, but sometimes we simply have to batten down the hatches despite our best efforts, mother nature is going to do what mother nature does. Humans, are no different. Especially small human beings.
Remember, children are not small adults and cannot be expected to act, behave, or think like an adult. But adults feel the same feelings that kids feel and vice versa, its' just that age has brought some benefits with it for adults who may have learned how to navigate their emotional life with skills they have learned over the years. We have to help kids do the same.
In this post I want to focus on the antecedents of the storm; the things that feed it and gives it momentum. These are the things we need to address if we are to have any hope of reducing the frequency and regularity of storms. Just like forest fires - without forest, there's no forest fire! So, it is with kids. If there is nothing to grow the fire, the fire doesn't happen. Now, how are they going to learn to deal with difficult emotions,? I hear you ask! Believe me. Kids are exposed to difficult emotions everyday, don't worry, there is not going to be a lack of difficult emotion for them to experience throughout life. What we want to do is to teach them to become more aware of the things that inflames an emotional sitituation - a powerful skill to learn.
How do our kids learn this skill? We're going to have to teach them some forensic analysis. And some detective work is going to be needed. Sometimes we have to work backwards; surveying the 'damage' done can give us clues as to the things that fed the fire. We also have to elicit the child's perspectives, which are valid as long as we don't interfere or put words in their mouth (more on that next time).
Once we've gathered clues, we then do some hypothesis testing. We present some hypotheses to the child, and we work together to identify ones that appear to make sense. We then figure out solutions to problems together. The roots of so called misbehaviour are unsolved problems (sounds a bit over simplistic doesn't it? it's because it is. but it's not easy to sort). Emotional storms are caused by problems where there was no obvious solution. We have to then target those problems that cause the greatest consternation for the child and work together to find feasible, realistic and reasonable solutions.
Not all potential solutions brought forward will be feasible or reasonable, so we have to keep talking until we have 1 or 2 solutions we can try. If we fail, it just means we have not been specific enough about the problem we want to solve or the solution didn't address the specific problem. So we'll have to either review the problem, and adjust our approach with a new solution.
The STEP protocol is a great structure to use. S = say what the problem is. And be Specific (who, what, when), T = think of feasible solutions, E= execute the solution that makes the most sense, P= plan/prune the plan - tweak it (either the problem needs refinement in describing it or the solution stinks). Repeat repeat repeat.
If you run out of energy. Take a break. Come back to the problem. There's no shame in that. Better to come back fresh than tired.
Right. That's enough from me for now. I'll post about this again later. Perhaps we'll talk about what we can actually do when we're in the middle of the storm. A hint, is that we have to find calm within ourselves...breathe.
Until next time...Check out the FREE Toolkit for Emotional Storms Get some Toolkit action
Sometimes kids have a hard time talking to you about things when they need the most help. Learn to use emotional intelligence and empathic connection to gain co-operation without the friction.