Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Helping your child develop self-control

So far in the blog I have been mostly advising you what to do once your child is already in "tantrum" mode.   Another set of strategies is to to help your child develop self-observation skills.  Once your child recognizes he is "over-heating," then you can teach him strategies to deal with frustrations in a more mature way.   Your child has to recognize first there is a problem (his anger is sometimes "over the top") before he will be willing or able to work on the problem.  In this post, I will write about how to help your child learn to observe his emotional state.  In the next post, I will begin to outline strategies which your child can use to alter his emotional state.

The first step is to label his emotional level with colors or numbers.  You can use blue for "low" level of anger, yellow or orange for "getting hotter," and red for "scorching hot."  When your child is getting angry, try to use these labels in a non-critical way to help him see the differences in his emotional state.  You can also use the labels to point out your own level of anger at times, so that your child does not feel singled out.  Also, by pointing out your emotional state, you are modeling what you hope your child will be able to do for himself someday. 

You would explain the color system to your child when he is calm.  Then when he is angry you gently point out in just a few words the color of anger he is expressing:  "you are blue hot," "you are getting hotter, kind of orange now," or "you are red hot now."   An alternative is to use numbers (1-5) or the speed of cars, if you think these labels would appeal more to your child.  For example, you could say you going 10 miles per hour (for low levels of anger), or you are at 40 miles per hour (for mid range), or now you are going over 80 miles an hour!

This will not in itself lead to dramatic changes in your child's behavior.  But you are setting the stage for change by  helping him see the differences in how he expresses his angry feelings.  You will need to do this over a period of months for your child to recognize accurately how he is responding in different situations. 

Another self-observation skill to work on with your child is identifying triggers.  When your child is calm (after an outburst has subsided) point out what you think the trigger was.  For example, you could say "you got mad when you had to stop playing your game," or "you got mad when it was bedtime."  You are labeling the trigger in concrete words for your child.  You want him to begin to see the pattern.  Then in the future he can learn alternative ways to deal with his frustrations.  More about that in future posts.

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