What Do YOU Do with the Mad that You Feel?

Hedda SharapanI had to laugh when I saw a draft of the publicity for my upcoming keynote for an early childhood conference. The title read: “What do you do with the mad that you feel?” The speech is based on Fred Rogers’ song with that title, but they had forgotten to include the next line: “Helping children deal with their angry feelings.” If you don’t add the second line, it sounds like my whole talk is about the adults’ angry feelings.

Well, maybe that’s not so funny -- to think about a workshop on dealing with our own adult angry feelings. Actually that’s something that could be really helpful, especially for people who work all day with young children. Think about how you’re spending your day -- with toddlers and/or preschoolers who don’t yet have much self-control, can’t yet use words to tell you what they need and how they feel, can’t delay gratification, think what’s “mine” is “me,” and find it hard to take turns and cooperate! No wonder their behavior can push your buttons!

Fred always reminded us that anger is a natural and normal human emotion – for us adults, too! In fact, it’s often a reaction to feeling powerless. I certainly can understand how children can make a grown adult feel powerless – especially an adult who wants to be helpful.

The question is "What we DO with our anger?" I remember Fred Rogers’ story about when he was working with children and had an especially difficult time dealing with a child who challenged him every step of the way. Fred said, “It almost seemed that he wanted me to be mad at him, and I must say there were times I got so frustrated with him I felt as though I was acting like someone else.” After learning more about the boy and his family, Fred was able to see things from a different perspective: “Once I understood that, I stopped feeling as if that little boy was out to get me, I saw him rather as a scared child who needed help to feel safe.”

That story reminded me of a video from our Learning Discipline Workshop featuring early childhood professionals who found a helpful perspective: “It’s not about me…it’s about the child.”

Here are some other helpful hints:

Count to ten.

When we’re upset, stress hormones pour into our system, and the “thinking” part of our brain shuts down. Counting to ten and breathing deeply can lower the stress hormones, so we can think more clearly.

Don’t take it personally.

When you think of a child as “out to get you,” it’s natural to get defensive. But if you think of that child as needing your help to learn social-emotional skills, like self-control and self-regulation, you’re likely to react in a more nurturing way.

Lower your voice and slow down.

By lowering your voice, you'll be setting a quieter, calmer tone that helps the child to settle down.

Be a detective.

Challenging behaviors don’t come out of nowhere. Look for patterns. Try to understand more about the child. Spend one-on-one time. Try to learn more about the child’s background. The reasons aren't always obvious, but at least be there to help support the child.

Look for professional development opportunities.

Knowledge can help you understand more about children’s needs and feelings so you can respond in helpful, developmentally-appropriate ways.

Take care of yourself.

Get enough sleep at night so you’ll have the emotional energy to deal with the children. Do something nice for yourself – even something small can go a long way to helping you refuel.

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