Teaching Children to Cope with Feelings
Developing Self-Calming Skills
One of the greatest skills an adult working or living with young children can have is the ability to calm an upset child. Of course, the optimum is for children to learn to calm themselves, and for that reason adults should respect their attempts to do so. For example, when the crying infant finds a soothing thumb and pops it in, the adult should rejoice and not try to distract or substitute something else. The thumb is an example of a very effective self-soothing device.
If infants are to learn self-calming techniques, the adult must not jump up and respond to each little whimper or tiny demand. Timing is important; it takes skill to create a response gap that is just long enough to allow children to discover ways to meet their own needs. If the adult waits too long, children feel neglected; they may go beyond the place where they can calm themselves. Once the child gets overly excited and chaos sets in, the adult needs to be on hand to stop the momentum and help the child get reorganized. Sometimes this is merely a matter of being present and allowing the child to pick up your calm rhythms. Some adults have the natural instinct of tuning into the child’s rhythms, flowing with them until the two are in tune, then slowing the combined rhythm until the child is once more relaxed and calm. Thoman and Browder (1987) give specifics about how this can be done with a baby. They start by advising the adult to find a quiet, softly lit room and relax completely while holding the baby: “Breathe deeply. Feel all your muscles unwind.... Now tune in to your baby. Listen to his breathing. Feel his breathing against your chest. At first, try to match your breathing to your baby’s breathing, so you’re inhaling and exhaling in unison. Then slowly make your breathing deeper” (pp. 181–182). They say that as the adult changes his or her breathing, the baby’s breathing will change to match it.
This approach can be used with some children who are no longer babies. Some children are able to use the adult closeness to bring down their energy level and become calm. Something similar can even be used with a group of children. Some infant-care teachers and early educators know how to go with the flow of energy and then bring it down to a less chaotic level. There’s usually an ideal time to intervene. Determining this ideal time is a skill adults who live and work with young children can acquire through experience.
© ______ 2009, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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