Coping Skills for Children

by Annette Hernandez, Ph. D., Clinical Psychologist

A large part of the therapeutic work I do involves teaching young kids how to cope with intense feelings (i.e. anger, fear, etc.). While my training in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) gave me the basic skills in teaching relaxation skills, I struggled with figuring out how to modify these skills for very young children. Fortunately, experience (including my own parenting) and a little creativity has helped me to develop ways to make coping skills understandable and developmentally appropriate for this age group. In my last blog, I talked about labeling feelings and provided links for Feelings Charts that parents can incorporate into their daily lives. Colorful charts and graphic representations go a long way in illustrating skills practice for kids. In this entry, I will talk more about specific coping skills such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Continue reading

Developing Your Child’s Emotional Vocabulary

by Annette Hernandez, Ph. D., Clinical Psychologist

In my practice, I get lots of questions from parents of young children about helping kids manage their emotions. Young kids, as we all know (….some of us by direct experience, wink wink) are prone to tantrums and/or meltdowns. One reason for this is that their young minds are not yet able to a) understand their emotions and b) express their emotions. As with developing abilities, preschoolers need help learning the skill known as emotional vocabulary. In my last blog, I talked about labeling emotions by telling your child what you think she/he may be feeling at a particular moment. Now, I would like to talk about how we can help kids start to use their OWN feeling vocabulary. For example, when your child hears that you are making his or her favorite lunch-grilled cheese and apple- his or her little face peels into a smile and he or she starts dancing. While it is obvious to us that he or she is happy or excited, this is not so obvious to her or him. This is a good opportunity for developing the feeling vocabulary in your child by making a statement such as, “I can see that you’re really happy about lunch today!” To take this one step further, help your child make connections between situations (or triggers) and feelings by following up with questions such as “Is that so?” “Do you think you are happy about lunch?” This accomplishes two goals: a) it helps him or her confirm or disconfirm the feeling; b) it also provides room for a verbal exchange about feelings and triggers. Feelings charts (see links below) can help children use visual cues to build their vocabulary and recognize these emotions in others (there are many free and printable varieties online). You can start with simple ones with 3 or 4 feelings and gradually build up to more complex versions with up to 20 feelings. Continue reading

Emotional Learning

by Annette Hernandez, Ph. D., Clinical Psychologist

Emotional Learning in the Pre-Verbal Child

Emotional learning has become a hot topic these days in the field of child development. Psychology experts are researching the ways we develop an emotional vocabulary and how we express, recognize, and manage our emotions. Recent studies suggest that individuals exposed to emotional learning early in life, have happier and more successful lives in the future. While it is not always practical or feasible to enroll all our kids in a formal Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) program, there are simple things we can do to help our kids label their emotions. As adults, we are probably all familiar with the notions that simply stating our feelings out loud helps to diffuse those feelings and “center” us. For example, examine the following scenario. You become upset that your partner forgets to put the cap on the toothpaste after using it. Rather than saying, “it’s kind of frustrating when you forgot to put the cap back on the toothpaste, it leaks all over the place, the cat knocks it over, the kids get it on their clothing, etc. etc.”; you hold onto your frustration hoping it will go away, only to find yourself blowing up when he/she does something equally as frustrating and seemingly insignificant later in the day. If you express your emotion, in the moment…in a calm voice, looking the person in the eye, and using an appropriate level of physical contact (such as a hand on the other person’s shoulder); you convey your emotion providing a release for yourself and you are communicating with the other person. While the action described above may be relatively easy for an adult to do, how does it work for a young child, particularly one that is pre-verbal. Continue reading