Is it Possible for Kids to Control their Emotions? A Child Therapist Weighs In
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness…– 2 Peter 1:5-6a
“She’s in her terrible two’s.”
“He’s impulsive and I’m worried he has ADHD.”
“She doesn’t like to be by herself and worries I’m going to leave her.”
Emotions. They are a powerful tool that God gave us, but they should not control our lives. God gave us the ability to have self control. This includes children. Before I get into the actual skills we can use to help our children with their emotions, I want to share some research about our brains.
The brain is an amazing demonstration of God’s masterwork in creation. The brain is complex, and different areas control different things. In the front part of the brain behind our forehead is where problem solving and planning skills reside.Our brain is not fully developed until our early 20’s, which is important to know because children simply do not have a fully functioning brain. In fact, different parts of the brain develop at different times as we near the age where it reaches its full growth. It’s the same reason why kids learn addition and subtraction before multiplication and division. The problem solving and planning part of our brain (the front part) is last to mature! It’s why you ask a child, “Why did you do that?” and they respond, “I don’t know.” They don’t actually know why!
Daniel Siegel wrote a book called “The Whole Brain Child.” This is an amazing parenting book. I recommend every parent should purchase this book. It tells you the ages children can handle different emotional situations. It also tells the caregiver how to respond to those emotional situations based on their age.
In the back of this book is something called “the wheel of awareness.” This is shaped like a bicycle wheel. Around the outer rim (the tire of the bicycle) are six ways we interact with the world and interpret the world. They include our thoughts, feelings, dreams (aspirations), memories, perceptions, and body sensations.
In the center is what is called the hub. There are spokes drawn from the hub to the outer rim. In the center, the child’s name is written along with the words, calm, clear, open, aware, and receptive. For children who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, I also have them include the Holy Spirit in this center area. Click here to see a visual representation of the wheel on Dr. Dan Siegel’s website.
As a child therapist, I use this visual aid when counseling children. Our session starts with drawing the wheel of awareness. As we go through the outer rim points, we define them and give examples of each of them. Then, we discuss where they are on the wheel (the center) and where their feelings are (the outer rim). This shows them that they are not actually their emotions and that the hub (where they are) controls the outer rim (where their feelings reside). This offers a child the ability to make a choice of feeling a certain way or not.
My example from my own childhood is the feeling of boredom. Most people have at least one memory of a really rainy day when you couldn’t go outside and play and being inside was just, well, boring. It was at this time I made the decision (mistake) of going to my mom and telling her I was bored. My mom immediately gave me the option of going to clean the bathroom to give me something to do. Suddenly, my emotion changed and I was no longer bored! I realized I did have lots of things I could do!
My example is funny but it shows a child that we do actually have the choice of how we feel. How powerful for a child to realize this! They don’t have to feel anxious or mad or out of control. In fact, we have control over all of the outer rim points. Just as 2 Peter 1:5-6 reminds us, knowing comes first before self-control. This visual aid helps children tremendously gain knowledge about how to control not only their emotions, but all the other aspects of their life.
NIV Women of Faith Study Bible (2001). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
“Pondering,” courtesy of Ratiu Bia, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Alone,” courtesy of Bonnie Kittle, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Thinking,” courtesy of Delfi de la Rua, unsplash.com, CC0 License