I was on my way to visit my niece, Aniya, at her home in sunny Georgia.
As her aunt, I may be a tad biased, but she is the most vibrant child with twinkling eyes and a laugh that bubbles with joy. When she looks up at me, all I see is pure innocence and kindness.
Aniya ran out of the house to greet me carrying the small pink rabbit she brought everywhere with her. Whenever Aniya’s excited she throws her forever friend in the air and gleefully catches it. Whenever she’s sleepy, she rubs the worn fur on her cheek and looks around for a warm lap to curl up in.
Defining Empowering Moments
“Watch me, Aunt Scilla!” Aniya commanded and threw the rabbit as high as she could.
Not thinking twice, I reached over and caught the toy mid-air. I playfully held it over my niece’s upturned face. As she reached up to claim her bunny, I held it just out of reach and teased, “It’s mine now.”
I expected my spirited niece would join in the game, and jump up to snatch her stuffed animal back.
Instead, Aniya’s face fell. Tears welled up in her eyes and she stamped her foot. “I want my rabbit.”
I was taken aback as I had not meant my teasing to cause her anger and frustration, and was about to relinquish the toy when my ‘wise beyond her years’ niece surprised me. She paused and I watched her take a deep breath and compose her face in a determined manner. I could almost see her brain making a decision on how to handle my taunting. No adult was going to hold power over her peace and happiness.
She locked eyes with me and said firmly, “I’m happy” and skipped away towards her cousins playing catch.
“Aniya,” I called out. As she turned back towards me, I gently tossed the pink bunny into her open arms. “I’m sorry.”
She hugged her bunny close, and with a bright smile said, “Thanks Aunt Scilla. I’m happy you’re here.”
“I SAY WHO I AM” DEFINING MOMENT: Empower Children to Take Control of their Emotions
Despite her initial reaction when facing teasing and frustration, Aniya made a powerful and conscious decision to embrace happiness.
She refused to let her inner joy be interrupted.
Her unwavering spirit teaches us that we always have the power to change how we think and ultimately feel about a situation. We do not have to let external circumstances dictate our emotions and reactions.
We can choose to cultivate positivity in the face of adversity – even if that adversity is an aunt just trying to be playful and silly!
Three Strategies to Empower Children to Manage Their Emotions:
Whether you’re a parent, an Aunt, a Godmother, or interacting with children in general, you can empower them and their emotions at any moment.
1. Belly breathing
Teach this relaxation practice to children when they’re calm so they know what to do when they’re overwhelmed
- Ask your child to lie down on the floor and put their hand on their stomach. For young kids, find a favorite stuffed animal to place on their belly so they can take their stuffed animal “for a ride.
- Have them slowly breathe in, and point out how their stomach expands like a balloon.
- Have them slowly breathe out, and notice how their stomach deflates.
- Try practicing deep breathing while standing up with one hand on the stomach and one hand on the chest. Can your child take deep breaths that move just their belly, not their chest?
2. Moving the body
Some kids need movement to calm themselves rather than stillness
- Jump High. Blowing off steam can be fun. Challenge your child to a jumping contest to see who can jump highest, longest, fastest, or slowest. Or who can stand on one leg the longest? Get playful.
- Go For A Run. Going for a short jog can not only affect your child’s mood immediately, it will also improve their ability to cope with stress for several hours afterward.
- Walk in Nature. Being in nature has been proven to reduce stress. Taking even a few minutes to walk in nature can be just what your child needs to refocus and calm themselves
3. Lean into The Five Senses
The “54321” technique
Use the “54321” technique to ground the child back into the present moment and their bodies. This is also helpful for the adult in charge whose emotions may also be elevated due to the stress of helping an anxious or stressed child. Have them find or describe:
- 5 objects they can see right now.
- 4 objects they can feel or touch right now.
- 3 things they can hear right now.
- 2 things they can smell right now.
- 1 thing they can taste right now.