Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a health care professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.
We are on a lifelong journey to balance emotional, physical and environmental health. Toss in some spirituality and this becomes a full time job. Toss in tendencies towards overachieving and perfectionism and this slice of your life pie can start to edge out the others. All this is for adults who have seemingly had some time to practice.
What about kids who are just learning to grapple with this for the first time? I remember when my daughter was in the 3rd or 4th grade, which are the years our children see a lot of extra writing practice in preparation for state writing assessments. They are taught about webs, outlines, rough drafts, graphic organizers, and other tools to help organize their thoughts into readable stories with solid beginnings, middles and ends.
For whatever reason, our daughter just could not get her head around the benefit of these tools, and in spite of being a terrific writer, she was still 9 and learning. Her tendency towards perfectionism became exceedingly frustrating for the whole family as she often chose to do her writing assignments in pen, and in story (not outline, web or draft) form.
This meant, she’d often get near the end of the story, and alas there would be an issue so she’d start over from the beginning. This led, as you can imagine, to struggles around the homework table like crying, shutting down, and writing “I hate this homework” so hard on the paper that it went through the veneer of the table.
It became an important time for us to support her as she learned how to experience strong feelings. We started by teaching her that getting frustrated and having worry is normal and okay. Then we discussed what options she had for managing strong emotions, which both met her needs, and were kind on the family.
Not through yelling, mean words, or behaviors that hurt herself or someone else, but rather through healthy expression—saying how she feels, taking a breath or a break, listening to some calming music or taking a few minutes to herself.
When supporting kids as they grapple with strong feelings, it’s important to first make the problem about the problem, and not the child. For example, I don’t have an anxious kid, I have a kid who sometimes experiences anxiety. This separation of the emotion or problem from the child’s basic character is a solid first step at teaching the child what to do with the feeling or where to “put it”.
One of our many jobs as parents is to support our children when carrying the load gets too heavy, while at the same time not taking over and doing it for them. It’s also not too early to start teaching kids about the importance of balance and mindful decisions.
I like to use a scale of 1-10 technique when checking in with kids, which can help form a more meaningful response than “I dunno” or a shoulder shrug.
Depending on the child’s age you can help them understand where you think they are on the scale. “I can see that you are breathing heavily, and using a loud voice with your sister. I’m also remembering that we haven’t had lunch yet. I’m guessing you might be up around an 8 or a 9 right now. I’d like for you to take 3 deep breaths and count backwards from 100 while I make us some sandwiches.”
Or for an older child who is more able to self-report, you could ask “where are you scale of 1-10 with taking care of yourself physically today (food, water, sleep)? Where are you emotionally (journalling, talking about how you’re feeling, doing things for pleasure), and what do you need from me/the environment (less noise/light, reduction of screen time, connection to nature, time to go for a walk or be alone, etc.) in order to move to a more comfortable number?”
Contact Abby McKinnon at 503.317.8761 or through portlandchildfamilycounseling.com.