When Feelings Get Too Big

The body and the brain are so interconnected. When children or adults get overwhelmed by feelings, be it anxiety, fear, frustration, anger etc. this is registered not only in the brain but also in the body. Their heart rate will increase, their hands may get sweaty, their fists or jaws may clench and their breathing will become shallow. They can use the body to calm the brain, self-regulation can be achieved and they can feel a sense of control once again. Here are strategies for achieving this.

The 4 B’s

  1. Put the Brakes On: It is important to learn ways to put the brakes on to stop these feelings from getting bigger. Putting the brakes on helps release muscle tension and decreases the excess energy produced by the feelings. Here’s how to put the brakes on. Have your child sit and press the palms of his/her hands together for 5-10 seconds. This should be repeated several times. What it does is engage the muscles of the outer arms and the shoulders which are muscles involved in containment.
  2. Breathing: Breathing helps regain a sense of body awareness and helps restore a sense of calm. It also helps to ground the body. Teach you child to breathe into the belly/abdomen. Have your child put one hand on his/her abdomen and one hand on his/her chest. Instruct your child that s/he will want to feel the belly rise and not the chest. Have your child imagine that there is a balloon in his/her belly and that with each inhale, the balloon fills and the abdomen expands. Then exhale through the mouth as if s/he was blowing into a straw. Once your child has learned abdominal breathing, have him/her calm down with “Take 5 Breathing”.                                                                            1. Have your child stretch out his/her hand like a star. 2. Child uses his/her pointer finger to trace up and down around the fingers. 3.The pointer finger slides up each finger slowly and down the other side.  4. The child breathes in through the nose and out through the mouth. 5. Put it all together – breath in sliding up and breathing out sliding down. Keep going until your child has finished tracing his/her hand. (See image here.)
  3. Activate the Brain: Have you child place his/her hands on the top of his/her hands and apply a light pressure. This calms the body and activates the brain.
  4. Use the Body: Have your child cross his/her arms in front of his/her body and apply pressure as if to hug him/herself. This increases body awareness and sense of security, calm and focus. You can include a soft toy for the hug.

Once your child has learned these activities, s/he can use them anytime s/he needs to feel calm.



Kids and Screen Time

I just read an interesting article written by Jordan Shapiro, PhD in Depth Psychology. The article was about how the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have just changed their guidelines on screen time. They used to recommend that children under the age of 2 have no screen time and that screen time for older children be limited to just 2 hours a day. Now the guidelines that they are suggesting are much less rigid.

The AAP suggests that we not think of it as “screen time” anymore but rather as “time”. Screens are everywhere and are a reality of the times in which we live. We have to look at how we integrate these screen into our lives and the lives of our families and children.

Shapiro quotes from the book Speed Limits: Where Time Went And Why We Have So Little Left, written by Mark C. Taylor, “Like today’s parents concerned about the psychological and physical effects of their kids playing video games, nineteenth-century physicians worried about the effect of people sitting in railway cars for hours watching the world rush by in a stream of images that seemed to be detached from real people and actual things.” He further quotes Taylor with regards to people’s  initial responses to the steam-engine: “some physicians went so far as to maintain that the experience of speed caused ‘neurasthenia, neuralgia, nervous dyspepsia, early tooth decay, and even premature baldness.’”

What I take from these quotes is that change, newness, in this case the rapidly changing technology, is scary. It’s scary because we don’t know what the future holds in relation to these changes. While we can’t predict the outcome of the effect of technology on the lives of our children, no more that they could predict the effect of riding on a fast train, years ago. Therefore, the AAP suggests the following guidelines for integrating technology in a healthy way:

  1. Think of media as just another environment. Some environments are real and some are virtual and some environments have positive effects and others don’t.
  2. Parenting has not changed. The same parenting rules apply to your children’s real and virtual environments. Play with them. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Teach kindness. Be involved. Know their friends and where they are going with them.
  3. Be a role model. Limit your use of media and show them what is appropriate to do and share online. Parenting does require time away from screens.
  4. We learn from each other. Neuroscience research shows that very young children learn best via two-way communication. “Talk time” between caregiver and child remains critical for language development. Passive video programs do not lead to language learning in infants and young toddlers. The more media engender live interactions, the more educational value they may hold (e.g., a toddler chatting by video with a parent who is traveling). Optimal educational media opportunities begin after age 2, when media may play a role in bridging the learning achievement gap.
  5. Content matters. The quality of content is more important than the platform or time spent with media. Prioritize how your child spends his time rather than just setting a timer.
  6. Be an informed consumer. Many apps are labeled as educational but an interactive product requires more than “pushing and swiping” to teach. Look to organizations like Common Sense Media (www.commonsensemedia.org) that review age-appropriate apps, games and programs.
  7. Engage with your child. Play a video game with your child. Give your child your perspective on the game of media that is being used so that they can learn to be discriminating. For infants and toddlers, co-viewing is essential.
  8. Playtime is important. Unstructured playtime stimulates creativity and is a MUST. Prioritize daily unplugged playtime.
  9. Set limits. Technology use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Look at whether your child’s technology use helps or hinders participation in other activities?
  10. It’s OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are integral to adolescent development. Social media can support identity formation. Teach your teen appropriate behaviors that apply in both the real and online worlds. Ask teens to demonstrate what they are doing online to help you understand both content and context. In other words, stay connected and involved.
  11. Create tech-free zones. Preserve family mealtime. Recharge devices overnight outside your child’s bedroom. These actions encourage family time, healthier eating habits and healthier sleep.
  12. Children will make mistakes.  These can be teachable moments if handled with empathy. Certain behaviours, however, such as sexting or posting self-harm images, signal a need to assess youths for other risk-taking behaviours.

Making connections

                             Disconnecting to connect.