Language is the most powerful tool we have.
Language gives us the means to:
• communicate our thoughts
• express our feelings
• ask for what we need
Take a long, deep breath in through your nose…and slowly exhale.
Imagine you are in a tiny space, about the size of….you. There are no windows and it’s dark and usually stormy. The door seems to be stuck closed and you can’t get out. The thunder is so sudden and deafening. The lightning strikes so bright and frightening. The air is becoming thick and clammy. Fear starts taking over. Then you start fearing the fear. Claustrophobia starts to set in…
This is too much, you need to get out! You NEED to get out!! You can hear people out there. Your breathing is fast and feeling laboured. You think you are pleading with them for help, but all they can hear is the storm. You are begging, crying. You just need someone to open the door, even just a bit. But all they hear is the thunder. All they see is the lightning. There’s only one way you’re getting out of there – and that’s to explode. With that comes collateral damage, but at the time there doesn’t seem to be any other option.
Now imagine you have language and are simply able to say, “The storm’s getting too much in here. Could someone please open the door for me? It seems to be stuck and I can’t open it on my own today.”
That’s my analogy on what it’s like for kids who have mood disorders before they learn language around it. Jessie grew up with me reminding her to use her words, but she didn’t ever have the intensity of emotion she grew to have. When emotions hit the red zone for Jessie, she used to become extremely abusive and aggressive. Those feelings can be consuming, confusing and frightening for adults. Children can find them even more so as they simply don’t have the maturity or understanding to handle it.
As parents, with the right tools, we can empower our kids with positive language skills.
We started off with a sealed jar of water with coloured glitter in it. It’s purpose was to encourage Jessie to recognise when she was escalating. It then gave her a means to communicate that to me in a more positive manner. The jar sat on the kitchen bench. She would go to it and furiously shake the jar and say through gritted teeth, “my glitter is all over the place!!”. The colourful glitter would flutter around in the water, taking her focus off the blackness of her mood. Jessie used that until the glitter had no more colour. It was well used and very effective.
We then had an emotion chart that I put on the fridge. It was for both of us, so we could let each other know where we were at. We had a magnet each and would place it in the relevant quadrangle. Jessie used this willingly as well. Kids want to have a better outlet, just as much as they need it.
There are so many emotion charts to choose from online. Click here for some examples on Google. They are a fabulous teaching tool, because it requires the kids to read through the emotion names to choose the relevant feeling. Without them even realising, they are learning language to help them express themselves constructively.
Talking to our kids about the cards or emotions they have chosen is an important part of their learning (or re-learning) process. It gives us insight into how they are thinking. It also gives us the opportunity to emotion coach.
With language around her feelings, and the confidence she has gained in communicating with me, Jessie has a much better handle on things. 2 years on she will still have low scale outbursts, yell, swear and slam doors. However she de-escalates very quickly now, and without fail comes and apologises and we talk about what’s upsetting her.
Being able to recognise and name emotions, makes kids feel more in control. The more in control they feel, the less out of control they will behave.