Kids experience anger and frustration for a variety of reasons. These could include having difficulty with schoolwork, arguments with a peer or sibling, and/or a stressful situation at home. Whatever the reason, it seems that many kids resort to yelling, shoving, or hitting before trying other solutions.
When faced with a challenging situation, it is common for kids to act from their “dinosaur brain,” which is another term for the brain’s amygdala, a structure that regulates emotion and generally promotes acting out of a need for basic survival. If we can teach kids to put a space between the action and reaction, and to use the “thinking brain” or the prefrontal cortex instead, then kids can learn to use their executive functioning and higher thinking skills to respond (and not react). Adults could use some help with this, too.
One way to create a space between an event and a response is to use mindfulness. Mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention to what is happening in the moment, without judgment, and with lovingkindness towards oneself. In this way, one becomes a neutral observer of one’s emotions and reactions, but does not act upon them. Deep breathing can help with this. Ideally, when practicing deep breathing, it is best to breathe in through the nose (“smelling the flowers”) and breathe out through the mouth (“blowing out the birthday candles”). This signals the brain to activate the neurotransmitters that aid in relaxation. Practicing mindfulness and breathing for five minutes twice daily over a period of six weeks will produce the best results in terms of one’s overall ability to relax and to have calm responses to stressful situations. Of course, it is recommended that both children and adults have a regular, daily mindfulness practice.
A few children’s apps have recently been released to help guide children in mindfulness exercises. My favorite so far is called, “Stop, Breathe and Think for Kids.” Kids can choose a “mission” featuring animals who guide them towards solutions to specific concerns such as “meltdowns” or “sleep.” After practicing these techniques using the apps, they can then transfer the techniques to other settings on their own, such as at school or when arguing with a sibling. Other apps include: “Breathe” or “Relax.” In addition, choosing ocean sounds or relaxing music on Apple music, Alexa (Amazon Echo), or YouTube can assist children in calming down and learning to self-soothe. Having a “peace corner” in the house with books, stuffed animals, and fidgets or stress balls may also be helpful. Kids can go to the peace corner and practice their breathing for ten minutes before rejoining family members.