Big emotions such as anger, anxiety, and stress can cause children to feel as though they are losing control. If children are taught how to respond to big emotions the more effectively they can cope. The STOP method helps children learn body response awareness, triggers, to identify unhelpful thinking and how to take a break. Below are actions children can learn to slow down and pay attention to what is happening in their body, mind and environment.
SIGNS IN YOUR BODY
Your body will tell you something is happening when you feel big emotions. A variety of things may occur such as, a racing heartbeat, clenched teeth or fists, rapid or shallow breathing or sweaty palms. Label these body reactions with your child. Draw a diagram or create a silhouette and speak to them about what they feel when they are experiencing big emotions.
What pushes your child’s buttons? Identify what makes them feel anxious, overwhelmed or angry. Certain situations, people or environments cause people to feel big emotions. This could be not getting your way, being told no, someone teasing you, someone bumping into you, having to complete homework, or not understanding. Knowing what triggers your big emotions is important. Parents and children can plan in advance and create awareness about the things that trigger difficult emotions and make you feel like you are losing control. Try using a checklist to create dialogue about what may push their buttons. This creates awareness for both parents and children.
Be a detective of your own thoughts. Teach children to be in touch with how they are interpreting what is happening and how their thoughts are making them respond. This can be difficult for children to understand depending on their age, so breaking this down into basic terms will be helpful. For example, use the terms helpful vs. unhelpful or Red (hot) thoughts vs. Green (warm) thoughts. Going through this process can help children identify unhelpful thoughts that lead to losing control of emotions. It can also slow them down and press pause on responding with big emotions.
PAUSE AND TAKE A BREAK
Simply walk away if possible. Children (or adults for that matter) find it difficult when experiencing distressing emotions to take a break from the situation. Help your child understand that sometimes taking a few minutes to cool off can clear their mind. This may be a quick walk around the block, alone time in their bedroom, going in the back yard, or taking some quiet time and a few deep breaths. Doing this can help children practice the STOP method by paying attention to what is happening in their body, mind and what has triggered the big emotions in the first place. Reward your child with praise and positive reinforcement if you notice they have paused and taken a break.