You have no idea how good tortilla chips, hummus, and a bean quesadilla can taste until you’ve sat in a 90-minute parenting workshop which ends two hours after your usual dinner time. You see, I had planned on attending, but then I hadn’t. I had put the event on my calendar a month ago and had even scheduled the dog walker to feed and walk Samuel. This was when I was going through this craze of “because I’m no longer in graduate school I have to attend as many trainings as possible” phase.
But life and emotions come up. Rather than attending the first of this two-class series on teaching parents how to help their elementary school age children identify and manage their anger, I opted for self-care instead. I stayed home that night. Because I had changed my mind at the last minute by deciding not to go to the second training tonight, I didn’t bring extra food for later. I hadn’t anticipated on changing my mind again at even more of the last minute by deciding to attend after all.
Ways to Distract Your Mind
Have you ever heard of the acronym HALT? It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. I don’t know who first came up with it, but knowing Dan Siegel and his intense affinity for coming up with cool acronyms, I wouldn’t put it past him. Dan Siegel, by the way, is my parenting hero. I’ve listened to him narrate many of his books. Back to HALT. I was the first one, the “H,” and maybe a bit of the “T” as well. Despite how fascinating I found the instructional material to be, I couldn’t stop thinking about how hungry I was.
One of the ways you can distract your mind if you notice that your anger thermometer is becoming hotter is that you can doodle, do chair push-ups from a seated position, or have an object to fidget with. These are tools for kids but they work great for grownups too. My “fidget” equated to a self-soothing technique. I noticed that as we were talking about this subject, I was stroking my right thumb over the smooth surface of the watch head on my left wrist. Sometimes I get this whole left and right thing mixed up.
Hunger As an Emotion
There were a handful of parents in the workshop whose children were learning about anger management techniques in a different room. Being a non-parent, I felt good about being able to contribute by mentioning my watch-stroking as an example of an emotional regulation technique. The emotion is that I felt hungry and was not happy about it. Even though hunger is a physical sensation, I’ve learned that it’s basically also an emotion because it leads to certain feelings. One thing that I’ve learned in therapy is that we don’t have to act on our feelings. I’ve had to repeat this valuable piece of knowledge many times to myself. Tonight was the perfect night for putting that skill into practice.
We were sent home with some great tools. One of these tools was a small pinwheel: a sturdy stick with something like a fan at the top, shaped so that it can catch wind. That wind can be your own breath. In order to practice deep breathing techniques, this pinwheel tool can be quite useful. Not only is it useful, it’s just plain fun and rewarding to make and watch the wheel turn round.
What else did we get in our little gift bag? There was a laminated business card-sized paper with an emotions temperature gauge. Below that there is a small, black, square patch that you can put your finger or thumb on. If you leave your finger on that black patch, it turns colour according to the state you are currently in. It’s like a mood ring, only cooler because I can hide it in my wallet and no one has to know that I have it on hand. The colour coding was on the mood temperature gauge on the card.
Isn’t it great to think of emotions as a temperature? There’s basically hot, cold, neutral, and anything in between. For people who don’t like to talk about their emotions, or for school-age children who have not had enough experience expressing their feelings in words, this can be a great tool. Even for people who have been in therapy for years, reminders like these can be invaluable.
Putting It into Practice
You see, everything that we learn we will eventually practice. In practising emotionally healthy lifestyles, we are modelling those productive behaviours for everyone around us. If you are having a particularly good day, the person sitting next to you might be curious as to why you feel so good. Curiosity is the first step to learning, and so the cycle continues. I learn from her, who learned from him, and so forth until we arrive at a society’s set of cultural values.
Parenting in the United States is different than in other Western European countries. According to Sara Zaske, we don’t give our children enough freedom. It may be true. But if we can teach our children to be aware of their own bodies and emotions, they can become more independent. They can become less dependent on us when it comes to regulating their own emotions.
Imagine if each child were to have a class every year which taught one subject: emotional regulation. Can you imagine how many fewer stabbings, gunshot wounds, and instances of domestic violence there would be? If kids who become adults, who then lead us into the next generation, knew exactly what their bodies were telling them before they got upset, and then did something proactive about it? Just imagine what kind of world we could live in then. I don’t have the numbers to back it up, but I’m just saying, emotional regulation skills are important to have. Very important. The earlier that we learn them, the better off we all will be.