Children often 'show and tell' without much tell, when it comes to feelings. (I may have seen a television star showing more than telling this past week, come to think of it). Parents who come in for therapy often know what behavior they would like to see change. They've had their fill of slamming doors, biting, hitting, yelling, kicking, and stomping, not to mention poking, pushing, blurting, name calling and more.
So why do children show more than tell? This will be obvious once I remind you, because of course you already know they show more than tell because they have only had a couple years of exprience with the telling, and it's MUCH easier to talk about fun things that it is angry, sad and scared feelings. We see from what's happening in the news that this is problematic for people of any age.
When a child isn't yet proficient at the 'telling' of their emotions they need a combination of safety, an adult's availability, and practice. When we teach them and engage in 'feelings' conversations frequently over a day, a week, a month, those intensely stressful experiences may STILL be difficult to tell about but chances are we have helped them remember to talk too, and ask for help.
If your child or student slams doors or does things that you really want them to stop, take a moment and ask yourself these questions:
Is it easy for them to talk about feelings when calm?
Do they have a speech delay that makes talking in general difficult?
Are they surrounded by mostly calm or mostly chaos at home or school?
Do they know how to ask for help from an adult or is it difficult for them to do that?
How often do I notice -- and tell -- what they seem to be feeling like saying 'you look frustrated,
or sad, or just plain quiet?'
If your answers were yes, no, calm, yes and yes I'm as puzzled as you are. (Seek consultation from an early childhood professional or your physician.)
If your answers were maybe not, yes, a little of both, not so much and just sometimes then I can help!
Creating an emotionally safe environment means getting comfortable with emotion rich play and conversation -- on a playful daily basis, or after a behavior that you'd really like to see stopped.
Let's say that Sammy or Tammy just slammed his bedroom door after you asked them to go get off that electronic device. Based on how upset they are on a scale of 1 to 10, see if these strategies help:
at 1-3 a simple 'please don't slam the door, even if your frustrated about getting off electronics' will likely be enough. You can probably say it without being super close, and they can probably self regulate and calm down without too much help from you.
at 4-6 start with helping them calm down. Words and reminders don't sink in when we're super upset. Sit nearby, perhaps on the floor or down at their level and start with sympathetic body language, nodding or patting your hand for them to sit nearby. Once they seem calmer, say down to that 1-3 say something like "I can see you were mad, sad, frustrated about getting off technology. That's okay, but please don't slam the door when you're frustrated. If they seem to be soaking up your reassurance, ask if they want an idea for something else to do when frustrated and if they are on board share what you know -- breathing, shake your hands, jumping jacks, playing with the feelings toys, making a feelings sandwich, whatever works!
at 7-10 make sure you feel safe and calm and they are physically safe. Do what you know to make sure everyone is safe if you need to. We have a mobile crisis unit in our geographic area if extra help is needed. Otherwise, wait it out, try bath water or playing in sensory material like sand or the sink. Check in with your own level of calm, and do what you need to find your calm. When they move down to a calmer state, try the suggestions above.
Now, award yourself (an Oscar level?) star for creating calm where there had been chaos.