I want to share our use of the bubble timer and how I deal with angry outbursts without punishing.
I feel it’s important to remember that anger is a valid emotion for children to experience, just like happiness, boredom and sadness. It is totally okay for us to allow our kids the opportunity to FEEL these strong emotions - it’s all part of learning how to manage them by themselves. And although it can feel weird not to say “stop that now” or “calm down”, it’s better in the long run because our kids will learn how to deal with big emotions.
And remember, big emotions are ALWAYS communication.
For this reason, I always do the following: name the emotion so R knows what he’s feeling, tell him it’s okay to feel that way so that he knows he’s safe, and then give him a boundary so that he knows how to appropriately deal with it (e.g. when you’re cross it’s not okay to push your sister. The bubble timer will help you to calm down. Take it somewhere and watch the bubbles for a while).
So, this morning, R was playing the iPad. He had chosen to put 20 minutes on the oven timer. The timer went off and, naturally, he didn’t want to come away from the iPad.
I told him that he had chosen 20 minutes and now 20 minutes is finished so the iPad needs to go away. We went back and forth repeating the same sentences over and over between us until eventually he very reluctantly gave me the iPad. During this time I did not tell him that he must give me the iPad, nor did I raise my voice or change my tone. I simply told him the facts: the oven timer has gone off, 20 minutes is up and that means the iPad goes away.
After that he stomped off into another room and said he was cross. Fair enough right?! He wanted more time on it!
In this situation I usually give him some space, so I cleared up breakfast and took his sister upstairs.
Soon after he followed us and came right up to his sister and pushed her. She cried.
Now it would have been really easy to tell him off here for pushing her, but when you look at the whole situation, the real reason for his anger was not with his sister but because he had to give up the iPad. His anger is valid but pushing his sister is not okay.
So this is how I dealt with it calmly. I picked up F and made a fuss of her and checked she was okay. Then I told R that pushing F was not okay and that he is feeling angry. Then I told him that I understand that he’s cross, but when he is feeling anger he can use the bubble timer to calm down. I sat him on my bed and told him to watch the bubbles. In less than a minute he was happy and smiling again. Now I didn’t force this - if he had said that he didn’t want the bubble timer, I would have accepted that and offered another way to calm down.
You might think that I should have punished him for pushing his sister. The reason I don’t do this is because, firstly, the two events are not linked. He is cross because he had to put the iPad away, he needed an outlet for the anger and chose his sister which was not okay. He was not angry with her. He now knows that pushing his sister is not an appropriate way to deal with feelings of anger. Punishing this would likely have increased his anger and left him feeling unsupported and unsafe. My aim is to support him through these emotions, not to chastise him for feeling them. But also, making a fuss of his sister when she got hurt would make him feel bad enough without me telling him off.
I also don’t enforce “sorry”. I model this and he does say it when he feels it’s right to. But forcing him to say “sorry” is meaningless to him.
What ways do you use to help calm your kids down when they’re angry?
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