They’ll all big emotions aren’t they?
And heck, as grown ups, we struggle to handle them.
So understandably they can be overwhelming for small children.
Their little bodies are getting hit by a big whoosh of chemicals.
That gets their heart racing.
So no wonder they can’t find the words.
And all that feeling comes out as panic.
Or tantrum. Or meltdown.
Label it what we will.
It’s horrible for them. And it’s often so hard as parents not to yell back.
Not to respond to that onslaught of their emotion with our own fear and own anger.
And in our anger – and not infrequently our own embarrassment – we need to be careful we don’t teach children to simply quash those feelings. And hide their emotions away.
Because they will find a way out somehow! Always!
But I’ve found there are simple tricks we can share with children that help them calm themselves in those moments of extreme emotion.
And the ones I find most powerful are ones that concentrate on their body.
And the scary chemicals whizzing around. And their heart rate.
They give instant relief and create the space for exploring the big feelings in words later.
The most popular calm down trick in our family – apart of course from a good old cuddle – involves a very big herd of very stinky elephants!!
If we’re in when the crazy, chemical whizzing emotions hit, the elephants always come to the door.
Lots and lots of them. And they’re very stinky!
And we HAVE to let them in!
Or sometimes we see them when we’re out. Trying to get into Sainsburys or the cinema.
But wherever they are, they’re always trying to sneak in extra elephants so we have to count them.
One stinky elephant.
Two stinky elephants.
Three stinky elephants …
And do you know what?
By the time we’ve got to 25 stinky elephants – though sometimes there’s a hundred! – our breathing has slowed down. Our heart rate has slowed down. And our adrenalin levels are already falling.
Partly because the elephants make us laugh. They are silly.
But also because the simple rhythm of counting elephants steadies and deepens our breathing.
And as soon as we do that, our heart rate responds.
And as our heart rate slows, our body knows it’s no longer under attack.
So our muscles relax. Our constricted blood vessels open up. And we stop pumping adrenalin.
Then with all of us in a much calmer place we can face whatever triggered the emotions.
Or just move on and get on with the day.
Now the stinky elephants themselves might not work for your kids and you.
But the principle behind them hopefully will – which is basically just having a strong, humorous visual image that you can conjure instantly and which prompts counting with a six or seven slow syllable phrase.
Do give it a go and let me know how you get on.