A 3-4-year-old has not yet mastered the ability to talk about her feelings, and developmentally often cannot distinguish between who she is and her behavior.
In therapy with children, I often help them depersonalize the feeling/behavior by giving it a name of its own and referring to that instead of her actions. The child then can take correction less personally, and begin to feel she can manage it as her creature.
The feeling can be positive or negative. For example, a child may name it “wild thing,” or “silly willy,” or “Mad Mable.” The object is to develop and identity separate from herself that she then can help when the creature shows up.
Some kids imagine a box for their creature as a way to control it. You can suggest more self-regulatory ideas like having the creature take a breath, or talk to an adult, or using any of the other strategies we have learned.
The point is, children can customize what works for their particular difficulty helping them to feel in charge when it shows up. Adults can shift from asking questions like “Why are you acting so crazy?” to “Looks like Wild Thing is in charge right now. Wonder what you can do to help?”
- Write down the answers to these questions:
- Ask the child what feeling they are having. State that sometimes it helps to think of emotion as a creature that comes to visit, one that you can name.
- Give a couple of examples. Have the child close her eyes and imagine the feeling she is having and what creature it might be.
- Ask her to notice how it looks. Ask her how big and what color it is, what shape, and maybe even how it smells and tastes.
- Ask what is usually happening around her when the creature shows up.
- Then ask her to think of some ways she could help it.
- Have her color a picture of it, and write both the child’s name and the creature's name on it. If you are doing this as a class, you might want to make it a week-long lesson and post all of them on the wall.
- Kids can share their ideas and strategies.
- My Creature’s name is:
- My Creature visits me when:
- I can tame my Creature by:
- My Creature looks like this:
Providing children with the opportunity to talk about any negative events that have taken place during the day is a way of emptying the “feelings container” to leave room for the rest of the day.
- You can help them use this concept by creating a visual or physical container, and label it “The Feelings Container.”