How to teach children about emotions

Today in the homeschool I was looking forward to exploring emotional behavior using a Volcano theme. My eldest son (9) was interested in talking about the cause of tsunami’s, tidal waves, and under sea volcanoes and shifting of tectonic plates, and the outcome of a tidal wave on a community, and how frequently it happens. A great discussion for the early primary years.

Meanwhile my younger son (6) made volcanoes out of spaghetti we’d cooked for lunch, sprinkling cheese to melt, and Nutritional Yeast as dust and soot. Great activity for kindergarten, or preschool.

Waldorf Crayons, today, held by the whole hand, and white paper, provided the only resources needed for our next activity which was drawing volcanoes in order to explore emotions and events around eruptions / tantrums.

What is a tantrum?

Volcano lava: How does a tantrum appear to others?

Volcano middle: What is the perceived reason behind a tantrum?

Volcano base: What is the underlying reason for a tantrum?

These 3 questions are the 3 parts of the volcano, to discuss while being creative with your crayons.

We had fun brainstorming all the ways anger erupts in people, reflecting on our own behaviour as well as our friends. My older son felt quite satisfied, at the end of his activity, having learned that most tantrums can be solved by you asking the person – are you ok, are you hungry, tired? He learned its not really him to blame, but he is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

My younger son was fascinated by this. What does it mean to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Understanding that there are different reasons for events to happen and it’s not your fault, is a huge concept that is emotionally freeing for kids.

In this case today, my younger son was bouncing across the lounges trying to distract us from the discussion. We analyzed him (to his amusement) and learned from him that he didn’t want to do the activity because he didn’t feel good enough because he had compared his drawing to both of ours and criticized his own work. And so my 9yo son and I made an activity of enquiring about, looking in detail, and praising my 6yo son’s picture. With huge enthusiasm! Then my 6yo and I did the same for my 9yo, and both boys did the same for me. It gave them an extra opportunity to correct a critical view of other people’s work, and turn those observations into a compliment or a question, as they knew the goal was to help each other feel “good enough”.

How important this is for adults to model.

If you feel inclined to judge or criticize someone after observing their work or actions, turn your criticism into a compliment … and if you can’t manage that, ask a question about their work.

Be curious. Be kind. Build a relationship.

And my 6yo, of course, loved the praise and sharing the praise around! Like all kids his age, he loves having a purpose and feeling included and good enough.

The boys then counted how many colours in each of our pictures. My eldest also added dinosaurs to his picture and his name spewing out of one dinosaurs mouth in a roar!

This activity gave so many opportunities to give examples.

I demonstrated an example of me being cranky after being invited out to lunch, and in fact all I needed was to feel clean and wash off breastmilk and get in clean clothes, to be happy and excited to go out…

You remember Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs? Those base needs are the clue most of the time. Meet the base need, and people feel safe and cared for enough to be able to function and get along with others.

This volcano activity was based on some reading I did on Peaceful Parenting by Lisa Smith. Some of my notes from her work (and I encourage you to check out her book):

Understand that when my children express an emotion, it’s not intended to communicate that I’m a bad parent. It’s just that they have an emotion that needs to be felt – let them feel their feelings.

Am I creating an environment where my child feels safe to express his or her emotions? If not, how can I work towards creating this environment?How can I remove judgment around my feelings and my child’s feelings, especially anger?

Anger is an unmet need. Instead of taking the anger personally, have a think about what your child is lacking at this moment. Has he had enough sleep, enough play, enough to eat, enough time to rest?

When you last were angry, what was your unmet need? Can you meet your need before your anger escalates?

The base of the volcano is one of your typical unmet needs. A test to make sure you wrote the correct unmet needs is that if this need is met, there is no anger. The middle of the volcano represents the situation that’s preventing your needs from being met and the emotions that are beginning to bubble up like lava. At the top of the volcano are how your feelings manifest and explode out the top. It’s the expression of your unmet needs.

It could show up in the form of yelling, spanking, slamming doors, silence, walking away, shutting down, becoming passive aggressive, to name a few.

The text in italics above is my note-taking from Lisa Smith’s book entitled How To Use Anger To Find Peace As A Parent. While I am not an affiliate I do encourage you to check out her book and website, make a purchase to support her work, and write your own notes and homeschool activities ideas.

Joanna Becker, Australian Author

© Copyright 2019.

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