Friday, December 31, 2010

Winter Solstice Celebration - Part II: Topic - Coping Skills by Cody Dale

Cody Dale is a Child Behavior Specialist. She has been working with children for over ten years and has majored in both Early Childhood Education and Child Development. Cody began her career by teaching in an infant/toddler room at a pre-school in Huntington Beach, California. With high ratios and over-stimulated children, she found that she just wasn't getting the one-on-one time she really desired with kids and after two years, began her journey to becoming a nanny. Throughout most of her career, she was involved in RIE training. Just within the past year, her career has taken her down a very gratifying path and now teaches classes and workshops as a Parent Coach in both the Tahoe and Orange County areas.

In this post, I will be sharing what Cody discussed with us at our Winter Solstice Celebration. The topic was on how to understand what our toddlers/young children are going through in these learning/growing stages and how to learn coping skills to teach our children when they get upset and frustrated (or as my family likes to call it “big feelings”).

As mentioned in the book, “Connection Parenting – Parenting Through Connection Instead of Coercion, Through Love Instead of Fear” by Pam Leo, the author talks about when a child’s needs are met (i.e. when they are well-fed, well-rested and when they have been given emotional attention) how cooperative they are. One of the things children may not understand at this age is how to conserve energy the way adults can. When an adult thinks about a typical day, they think about all the things they have to do, and while that can be overwhelming, it does give us the ability to conserve energy throughout the day so that we don’t run out of steam halfway through. Children on the other hand, don’t have that ability. So even though you may have done your absolute best to get their needs met, a lot of times our kids expend all their energy in excitement or play and can then become tired and frustrated by the time us adults still have to run an errand (i.e. grocery shopping). This is where learning how to show our children coping skills come into play in situations like these. Or when children get frustrated with a toy, when playmates on the playground are doing something they don’t like, or when they want something they can’t have. Coping skills are important to have throughout life and now is a great time to teach them techniques that will work for them through adulthood.

One of the first things you need to decide as a parent is what kind of coping skills you want to introduce to your kids. When kids are babies, some parents offer methods, such as pacifiers or special blankets. But now that your kids are older they are capable of using other coping methods. One of the things RIE teaches is not to take away a child’s pacifier/stuffed animal or special blanket until they are ready. But as kids get older and become more active and more involved with school or classes, the less those methods work because they can’t take them everywhere (and if they do it keeps them from being able to fully participate in the activities they are doing). So creating coping skills that children can use anywhere and eventually can do on their own is important.

The following methods are techniques that Cody likes to use when teaching kids about coping skills:

1) Taking Deep Breaths

It sounds obvious but people don’t realize that even young toddlers can do this. However, you must teach them this technique BEFORE they are upset. It’s most effective to take a time when the kids are awake, fed, and happy and just show them some deep breathing exercises. Some children like pretending to be a dragon, or doing very loud over exaggerated breaths. After showing them the breathing exercise, you can explain to them that sometimes when you are upset it is really helpful to do these things. Remember, it will not sink in the first time, it is a skill that must be worked on, but they do learn quickly!

Another thing that RIE teaches is that it’s okay to explain to your kids emotions, such as telling them when you’re frustrated. This helps kids get in touch with their emotions and reassures them that everyone feels this way sometimes. For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, you could tell your child (in a calm way) that you’re going to sit down and take some deep breaths. Sometimes even go further and asking them if they want to help can be beneficial. This is the age where kids love to be involved and help! This process could actually be fun for the child helping you and showing you their deep breaths.  And it could also be a bonding experience that will put both of you in a good mood.

The next time they are frustrated you can ask them if they want to take some deep breaths. They might not want to but feel free to do it yourself (especially if the situation is getting you overwhelmed too!) and a lot of times they will join in. Of course you never want to force them to use a coping skill because that is counter-productive and breaks down the bond between the both of you.

It is also helpful to practice skills that you would like for your child to learn before they are in a situation where they will need them. One good example is having tea parties to practice table manners before taking them to a restaurant. This of course works with coping skills, as well. A great suggestion is to play pretend with your child and ask them to show you different emotions.  Ask how they might act when they are feeling a certain way (sad, happy, excited, etc.). You could even ask them “If I was upset what could I do? Often times, kids may answer by saying “Try deep breathing”! This is a great way to teach them how to brainstorm and another way to reinforce coping skills.

Note: deep breathing exercises seem to work really well with both active and calmer kids.

2) Re-Centering Yourself

Another method that works really well for children is to take them into another room (preferably the bathroom), turn the lights down low and take a few minutes away from the situation to give a few snuggles. This could even give an opportunity to talk/ask them about their frustration (not to reprimand or scold as this, of course, breaks the bond). Alot of times kids become over stimulated and by doing this technique, it really helps them to calm down.  Just like most adults need time and space to re-center themselves (i.e. whether it's taking a few breaths to relax, meditating, etc) when they get frustrated and/or overwhelmed, children do too!

An example that Cody shared:

“One of the little girls I work with, named Samantha, has really done well with this. It’s actually something I have been doing with her since she was born (she’s now almost three). Samantha loves to snuggle and when she would get frustrated as a baby I would take her into her nursery or the bathroom, turn down the lights if I could and just sit and rock her for two or three minutes. She would lean into me and sigh and cheer right up and we’d walk out of the room both recharged. Now that she is older Samantha recognizes when she is frustrated (sometimes with a little help), and goes into the bathroom by herself. She closes the door (we have made the room baby proof and make sure we can hear her) sits in there for a few minutes, sometimes talking to herself and then walks out, cheerful as can be!"

If there is not a bathroom for a child to go to, they can always go off to a corner and turn their back to everything that’s going on and re-center themselves. Keep in mind that you will need to assess what your child’s personality is. Active children often get more frustrated if you use methods like sitting and calming down with a grown up. If you discover that re-centering technique isn't helping, perhaps going outside with your child and running around the yard a few times to release their energy would be more beneficial.  And if it's too cold, then perhaps dancing or doing jumping jacks or basically anything active that will help to release their frustrated energy.

3. Self-Soothing

Part of respecting and connecting with our children is reading their cues and allowing them to self-soothe (if they want to or are capable of doing). Children will give you signs of what they need in order to calm down. The trick is knowing how to read them!  As parents and caregivers, we tend to want to always help or "fix" things and sometimes we try so hard that we forget to take a minute and just stop and see what our kids are telling us.

Another example that Cody shared:

“One of the things that brought this to my attention is an incident I had with one of my kids, Charlie, a few years ago. One of my best friends had watched Charlie since he was born and they (along with myself) and the kids I watched had play dates nearly every day. Charlie was very comfortable with me and I had watched him on many occasions when his nanny was busy. However, one night when I went to his house, even though he greeted me with hugs and kisses and excitement, when his mom left he was really upset. He was crying and carrying on in a way I had never seen him. He was about two and a half at the time and I spent a few minutes trying to talk to him, asking him if he wanted a hug, explaining to him in a calm voice that mommy would come back, trying to distract him, trying to figure out if he was hungry or tired….and when I had tried everything I could think of I finally stopped and observed him and realized he was staying on the other side of the coffee table from me, showing me with his body language that although he wanted to be in the same room with me (he could have run to the other room), he didn’t want me physically near him. The more I thought about it I realized that anytime I suggested anything to him he got even more upset. Finally, I realized that all he needed was for me to simply sit there and be there for him. As soon as I did that he cried for another minute or so and then calmed himself down. He took some deep breaths on his own, put his head down on his arms and when he lifted his head he gave me a teary eyed smile and came over to me with his arms up for me to hold him. I picked him up and he cuddled on my lap for a few minutes and when he was finally calm I apologized to him for not listening to what he was trying to tell me and we had a great night.”

STOP, OBSERVE and really watch what your children are doing. So often they are telling us what they need with their body language or words, but we are so wrapped up in our own thoughts it is difficult to see.

Even children that have not been taught coping skills know how to calm themselves or will show you what they need to calm down. We see in videos with young babies that when they are overwhelmed by a situation they will turn their head away and not look again until they have calmed down. Many parents try and force kids to look at them or talk before they aren’t ready because they don’t realize that what these kids are doing is self-soothing!

Some kids will come over to you for a cuddle right away and just want to be held. Some will try to talk to you, some will run away and find a quiet corner, they WILL show you what they need! And one of the most important things you can do is to just stop and give them what they need. When you do this, they calm down so quickly you will be surprised (keeping in mind that sometimes what they need is sleep or food). Once they are calm, it gives a better opportunity for you to talk to them. For kids that run off and need alone time, give them a minute or two and then quietly and calmly go over and ask if you can talk. If they say “No” or give you an indication that they are not ready, try and sit down without saying anything. A lot of times they will let you stay in the room with them and within a few minutes they are ready to talk.

As adults we have so much on our plate that we always feel like we don’t have enough time, but when you stop and deal with these things as they come up, it takes a shockingly short amount of time out of your day and you really will make it up with how cooperative your child becomes afterwards.

This philosophy is also explained in Connection Parenting.  As quoted from the book: "It takes the same amount of time and attention to meet children's emotional needs as it does to deal with behaviors caused by their unmet emotional needs. Either we spend time meeting children's emotional needs by filling their love cup or we will spend time dealing with behaviors caused by their unmet needs. Either way we spend the time."

4. Emotional Coaching

When using Emotional Coaching, you must wait until the child is ready to do this. This doesn’t mean that the child is not upset anymore, but merely that their crying is slowing and their breathing is starting to return to normal. That is when they are able to talk and listen. Before that, all they need is a cuddle or someone to be there for them.

It’s very important not to invalidate your child’s feelings. For instance, if a child falls down, most parents/caregivers try to not react and tend to say “It’s okay”. This can actually be damaging to tell a child this. As part of social understanding, kids will look to you to see how to react but NEVER tell a child that it’s okay! The reason for this is because if the child was scared by a fall or if it does actually hurt and you invalidate their feelings by telling them “it’s okay”, it not only breaks down the bond between you two, (because you are not validating their feelings), but it may also leave them feeling confused and incapable of understanding what they really feel. We want them to be conscious of what their body is feeling and be able to articulate it. So it’s very important to ask questions instead of giving answers. If you think the child is okay you can stay where you are and say something like “Oh, you fell down, are you okay?” Don’t overreact because that will cause them to be even more upset.  Just ask instead of telling. This technique can be used for when they are sad, frustrated, etc.

In the past year, Cody has been researching the way the arts, specifically theater, helps kids with emotional behavior. She has found with kids is that not only do they absolutely LOVE puppets, but puppets can really help them understand their emotions. You can use puppets to show emotion (stories where one puppet is frustrated and the other puppet talks and helps the first puppet) as another way to show them coping skills. For instance, once they see a puppet deep breathing it can be a lot more fun to get involved. It can also help in communicating with your child by using the puppet. Alot of times a puppet is easier for the child to talk to. Either purchase a couple of puppets or even better yet, make it a fun project by making them. You can make them pretty easily with socks and a few arts and crafts or even with things around the house.

Emotion Coaching

What are the five elements of emotion coaching?

1. Be aware of a child's emotions

2. Recognize emotional expression as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching

3. Listen empathetically and validate a child's feelings

4. Label emotions in words a child can understand

5. Help a child come up with an appropriate way to solve a problem or deal with an upsetting issue or situation

Dr. Gottman's research found that children of emotion-coaching parents had more abilities in the area of their own emotions than children who were not coached by their parents. In other words, these "coached" children grew up to become what Dan Goleman has referred to as "emotionally intelligent" people. What are characteristics of these children? They:

• Are able to regulate their emotional states

• Are better at soothing themselves when they are upset

• Can calm down their hearts faster after an upsetting incident

• Have fewer infectious illnesses

• Are better at focusing attention

• Relate better to other people, even in tough situations like getting teased in middle school

• Are better at understanding people

• Have better friendships with other children

• Are better in school situations that require academic performance

***This information was taken from The Gottman Relationship Institute website.

No comments:

Post a Comment