When our children get upset, we often encourage them to “slow down” and “take a breath.” Intuitively, we know that “taking a breath” can help our children calm down, sooth themselves, just like it does for us. An experiment conducted by Jelena Obradovic, director of the Stanford SPARK Lab, revealed that teaching children to breathe deeply in an everyday setting, like a children’s museum, a public playground, or a full-day summer camp, effectively reduce their stress. One important feature of this study was the 1-minute-18-second video used to guide the children through four calming breathes and so teach them to use breathing to manage their stress.
I share this information and the teaching video with you because we want our children to learn how to effectively manage their stress and frustration. Learning to breathe deeply by “smelling a flower” before “blowing out a candle” will help. It will be a great help when your child is stressed over some upcoming situation or following some situation like:
- preparing to get a vaccine
- getting ready for a performance
- getting ready for school
- after having an argument with a friend
- experiencing anxiety about a test or tryout or game.
In fact, learning to breathe deeply can help our children manage stress anytime it arises. I don’t know about you, but helping my children manage their stress reduces my stress as well. So, I’m going to take a breath and relax while teaching my children to breathe deeply to manage stress as well.
Venting can be a beneficial way to manage feelings…sometimes. After all, not all venting is the same. In fact, some venting will simply escalate your negative emotion. For instance, physically releasing anger or other dark emotions will escalate that emotion. So will acting the negative emotion out verbally. And escalating the emotion without moving toward a resolution can actually destroy your family. In fact, studies suggest that anxiety and grief increase when all we do is release the emotion verbally or over social media. In other words, not all venting is helpful. For venting to be beneficial, we need to do the “two-step.”
- The first step involves finding a trusted person who will listen and validate our experience. However, if this is all we have, venting will produce the negative results noted above.
- We also need the second step. We need the listener to help us clarify the situation, provide a new or objective perspective, and offer sound advice. This will require that we do more than simply vent, we must listen and accept input as well.
How can we teach our children this delicate dance of effective venting?
- First, model effective venting. That will require you doing the next steps in your own life as well as teaching them to your child.
- Teach your child multiple ways to deal with emotions. The more tools we have, the better prepared we are to deal with whatever emotion arises. Teach your child a variety of tools for managing emotions. For instance, you might encourage them to write about their thoughts and feelings, journaling to gain clarity. Teach them to breathe through difficult emotions. They may also utilize other creative ways to express their emotion, such as drawing the emotion, writing a song about the emotion, or thinking of a metaphor for their emotion. Teach your child how to think about the situation in ways that will allow for greater emotional control. For instance, encourage them to consider the evidence, keep a mole hill a mole hill, or considering what they might tell a friend in a similar situation. Having multiple ways of managing emotions can also help make your child’s emotions your friend.
- Help your child learn a broad emotional vocabulary. Taking time to label an emotion puts space between the emotion and our response. It gives us time to think about the situation and emotion so we can act thoughtfully. We become more objective in our reasoning rather than emotional. Overall, that means we have more power in managing our emotion.
- Teach your children to choose wisely when considering who they want to vent to. It is not wise to vent to “just anyone.” Teach your child that the person to whom you vent needs to listen well AND have the ability to offer positive insights that broaden your perspective, insights that help you move toward a positive resolution.
- Teach your child to prompt the listener to offer their perspective. Teach them to recognize when they are simply rehashing an emotional situation so they can stop and ask the person listening for their perspective, a way to think differently about the situation, or a positive way to respond. Teach them to take the initiative in seeking their input and then humbling themselves to listen.
These four tips can help your child learn the dance of effective venting. Of course, you need to practice these steps so you can model the dance yourself. Before long, you’ll all practice the dance well and enjoy the music.