Caregivers learn how to help their kids distinguish emotions


BENNINGTON — There comes a time when a toddler doesn't get his or her way and a tantrum erupts, but with a few behavioral exercises there are ways to help them control that outburst.

On Monday, Andrea Mook, an early childhood mental health clinician at United Counseling Service, shared with local caregivers at the Early Childhood Center on Division Street, various ways to teach children how to "keep their cool." Some of these methods include making a calming jar, creating an anger thermometer or graph to help identify feelings, and recognizing behaviors that exhibit certain emotions.

About eight caregivers attended the event and started putting together a toolbox to take home. The toolbox is something that holds calming items in which the child can go to when experiencing particular feelings. For example, a patch to a favorite blanket, action figures, a mini journal, or a homemade glitter jar.

"It's important that they know it's there," Mook said. "Make two if they spend a lot of time at a grandparent's or another person's house."

Some participants came for their children, grandchildren and even themselves, as noted upon group introduction.

Mook presented on the three blocks of self-regulation: affect identification, self-regulation and modulation, and self expression. For affect identification, caregivers must help children figure out what's happening internally and discriminate the meaning of feelings and what their body is telling them. Eventually, they should diagnose where the feeling came from.

"Emotions have energy to them, and eventually we like to teach kids that they have energy to them," she said.

The clinician suggested printing pictures of a child's face practicing different emotions, and putting the photos on a spinner board. Choose four specific emotions, such as mad, sad, sleepy and scared. By having the child spin the board once or twice each day, they will be able to physically demonstrate each face, distinguish the differences between them and connect that to a feeling.

"They don't know the difference in their body yet between sad and mad. So, that's where we're starting to help them realize what the differences between the feelings are," Mook said. "One way we can do that is to teach them about their body cues."

A furled brow, clenched fists or jaw, and a red face are indicators of any individual experiencing emotions.

"Helping to point those out is really helpful," Mook said.

The goal of the training was for caregivers to teach their children how to build vocabulary on how to describe a feeling, then generate a connection between the emotion and internal or external experience, understand context of emotion by addressing it in the moment, and to identify their own feelings and to later identify others' emotions.

Other ways to help identify feelings include acting them out with charades, practicing emotions with large flashcards, with a guessing game, and word play by changing tones.

Mook explained it's important to praise children for any progress they make, even if, on the feelings thermometer, they've moved from level 10 down to eight. Acknowledgement in conjunction with routine feeling practice will be most effective in achieving the three blocks.

The follow is a calming jar, or sensory jar recipe as a mindfulness or distraction tool adapted from Instructables. Various recipes online include putting mesmerizing objects in the bottles.


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