We all have Emotional Tanks. When we deal with life, stress and disappointments, our tanks become full and it’s our job to learn healthy ways to drain them. Some of us drain our tanks by exercising (my tank draining tool of choice) or by talking with a friend or by taking a nap. Most of us realize our tanks are full and when we are about to lose it on our kids or our spouse, we step away, take a break and try not to unleash on the world.
Kids do not have this insight. Not only are they unaware their tanks are full but many kids start their days FULL and it doesn’t take much to send them spinning. To have a full tank is not a choice. Many kids are just emotional to start. Their feelings are big, they take in everything around them and have strong reactions to injustices, other people’s reactions or changes in schedule (read about Highly Sensitive Kids to get a better sense of this). Things get worse when kids try to hold it together at school. They bottle up feelings at school and explode when they get home. If this is your kid, keep this in mind.
- It’s not the last thing that sets them off that matters. It’s not the fact that their sibling got two extra crackers or that you forgot to let them know about an extra piano lesson. It’s that they were looking for something to release their emotional tank. These are “baits” and I teach you how to not fall for them in the Baits and Triggers section of “Why Smart Kids Worry.”
- Draining the Emotional Tank feels good to kids. Kids actually feel better once they explode. They often show remorse, want to be close to you and seem much more reasonable. You may still be unraveling from their meltdown but your kid has moved on. This is because they actually feel better.
There are ways to help kids drain their Emotional Tank before they explode. These techniques help kids learn to notice when their tank is full and how they can drain it:
- Help kids identify feelings. I use Feeleez in my office to accomplish this. I ask kids to pick out three feelings and ask them to explain why they feel that way. For example, “I feel sad because I didn’t get a play date.” I recommend you add this to your bedtime routine to increase Emotional Intelligence. I also recommend that you also pick three feelings to model how you express feelings yourself.
- Identify healthy ways to release feelings. Once kids can identify feelings, they have an avenue to talk about their Emotional Tank instead of just reacting to it. If they say, “I was angry whenever I had to leave the party early.” You can say, “what helps you calm down when you feel angry?“and have them talk about what would help drain their tank. Ideas include: having some quiet time in their room, listening to music, screaming in a pillow, jumping on the trampoline, etc. It’s this ability to say “when I feel ____, I do _____” that helps kids mature emotionally and make better choices.
- Help kids learn from their mistakes. Kids often get caught in this cycle: Full Emotional Tank + Explosion = Guilt and Remorse. A good way to break up this pattern is to use a Think Sheet to process emotions. Print out a stack of them and use them when you need to. They help kids not only learn what sets them off but help boost self-esteem by having them find their own ways to react to their emotions.
The long-term goal here is that kids will learn how to manage emotions by being able to identify them and then choosing an effective strategy to release them on their own. They won’t need you to redirect, encourage and scold them for making wrong choices. They will be self-sufficient when it comes to managing difficult emotions. This is a lifelong skill that will help them have positive relationships with themselves and others.
Have a great week everyone! I hope you enjoy these last few weeks of summer. For updates, events, and other info about anxiety and such, you can follow me on the following platforms:
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