W has been on a long journey of emotional regulation this year, and I have loved helping him learn what works for him. He has your standard “drop on the floor while you scream and cry” bouts of emotion, and over the year these have lessened and lessened.
When a child is upset I often say, “Is there anything I can do to help you?” With W, I started to say, “Is there anything I can do to make this easier for you?” It is only slightly different, but it made a huge difference. It takes away the assumption that there is a solution that would make the emotions, or the root of them, go away. It strips away the implication that the goal is to cease being upset.
W was building with magna tiles and had succeeded in creating one of the largest structures I have seen him make. He walked away to grab some vehicles when someone knocked it down. I quickly made my way over, predicting a big burst of emotions that might need help. Instead, W clenched his fists, stomped his feet, and said, “I’m angry!” When I reached him, I got on his level and hugged him from behind. I felt him relax just a bit. Before I could say anything, he said, “Milo, can you make this easier for me?” I replied, “I would be happy to – what do you need to make this easier?” W asked for a hug, and also for help rebuilding his structure.
This moment not only marked progress W has made this year in terms of his ability to regulate his emotions, express how he is feeling, and knowing how to ask for help, it also showed me the value in repeated, year long interactions in this regard. There have been dozens of times I have had an interaction with W where I had to lead the way. I could have thought, “He isn’t getting it.” or “Will he ever learn?” But these concepts and skills are complicated, they take time to learn especially when your frontal cortex is still developing. Willingness to trust that they are learning in these moments, and to stay unruffled and consistent in our response is so important.