Written by Nicki Gallo (as published in the June edition of the HUMM)
There’s this exercise that I like do when I work with kids. It helps us to explore how our feelings are something that we experience in our bodies as well as our minds. First, I give the child a piece of paper with the outline of a person. I ask them to colour the location on the body where they feel certain emotions and match it with a colour. For example, they may feel red – anger in their hands “I’m so mad I could punch someone!” Or feel yellow – nervousness in their bellies “I have butterflies in my tummy!”
Sometimes, a child may fill the outline of the person with one colour, but this may not match what behaviour is happening on the outside. For example, the child could be acting out with angry temper tantrums or be completely withdrawn, however their outline is covered in just one emotion: fear.
Anger and disengagement can mask more vulnerable and raw emotions like sadness or fear.
When I personally take the time to shave down the layers of an emotional outburst, it usually comes down to “I’m scared.”
This may not be the reality in every case; however, it can give us insight into what may be happening under the surface.
This is an unfamiliar and uncertain time. Children are extremely empathic and can pick up on the stress that this virus is having on our daily lives. It’s often scarier when things aren’t being said as they can tell that the energy has shifted, but they don’t know why. With the recent news of schools in Ontario not returning this year, despite initial excitement, this can be scary and a big loss for kids. Loss of routine can mean a loss of control.
We may all be feeling a lot of big complicated emotions right now and not know how to express them. What we are feeling on the inside may not be what we are expressing on the outside.
How can we help our children increase their emotional vocabulary and express feelings in a positive way? How can we do the same as adults?
Here are a few ideas that may work with kids and kids at heart:
Name it to Tame it
The idea “name it to tame it” is a strategy to help make sense of our experience and feel more in control. When big emotions are out of control (right-brain) telling the story of what’s upsetting us (logical left-brain), integrates the brain, names the fears and helps to tame them.
Rose, Bud, Thorn
Many of our routines have disappeared. Having a simple daily check-in with each other is a great way to put words to emotions. A popular check-in tool is “Rose, Bud, Thorn.” This is good to do at dinner time or at the end of the day.
Rose: share your favourite part of the day
Bud: share something you are looking forward to doing tomorrow
Thorn: share your least favourite part of the day
Some of the best conversations take place while doing something else. Play is a child’s language and sometimes, to talk about big feelings, it’s easier to play while doing it. We can gain insight into their inner worlds or it may just be a great way to distract ourselves. Doing activities your kids like to do makes them feel connected and more secure. This goes for adults too.
Providing space for kids to express themselves and acknowledge that it’s okay to feel a lot of feelings right now is a wonderful way to support them in this bizarre time we’re in.
Nicki Gallo is a Certified Play Therapist. She runs play and creativity workshops and is not afraid to use glitter. She is a retired Toronto SickKids Hospital therapeutic clown and is currently creating online content to help children recognize and express emotions with her new clown, Emerald. You can check out the videos here.
We are super excited to have Nicki joining our collective. She’ll be helping to support and assist in making sure we can continue to offer you inspiring and educational events and community initiatives (as soon as we’re able to). Nicki is excited to be offering amazing workshops and one on one sessions to support families and individuals in our community. She is magic and reminds us to stay connected to our inner spark of joy and play, she looks forward getting to know you better!
Resources: Anxiety Canada, About Kids Health/Covid19, Child Mind Institute