Helping Kids Navigate Playground Politics

Helping Kids Navigate Playground Politics

School is back in session, and families are settling into routines. Children are back in the classroom, reuniting with friends, meeting new people, and getting used to their new social environment. During these early months of school, it’s not uncommon for certain dynamics to cause challenges for young children.

Typically this happens in less-supervised areas, like the playground. It’s common for children to come home and tell their parents things like:

  • “I was told there wasn’t enough room for me to join the game all the other kids were playing at recess.”
  • “A boy in my class keeps punching me at lunch when he thinks nobody is looking.”
  •  “A girl in another class keeps calling me names in front of my friends, and I hate it!”

But there’s good news: Parents can help their children navigate day-to-day playground politics by teaching them social-emotional skills—such as empathy, emotion management, and problem-solving.

Building Social Emotional Skills to Deal with Playground Politics.

Empathy

Empathy helps children understand or feel what another person is feeling by putting themselves in the other person’s shoes. Empathy can also help create self-awareness that allows children to distinguish their feelings from the feelings of others.

How to Teach Empathy to Kids

The most powerful way to encourage empathy is to model it. For example, when your child is hurt, disappointed, frustrated, or has a strong emotion, you might model showing empathy by saying, “Oh no, you sound sad…” or “It’s so hard to leave the park when you’re having so much fun, isn’t it?” or “Uh oh, what happened?”

You can also foster empathy in your child by discussing scenarios in which it could be used. For example, you could talk with your child about how another person might feel if he or she were to see someone get hurt on the playground or in response to something that happens to a character in a book or movie.

Emotion Management

Emotion management refers to a person’s ability to control his or her emotions in response to arousing situations.

How to Teach Emotion Management to Kids

Two of the most important skills we can teach children are how to identify their feelings and how to self-soothe when they are experiencing a strong emotion. These skills take time and practice to develop. Positive self-talk and deep breathing are two emotion-management tactics commonly used and practiced with children. Teaching self-talk encourages kids to talk to themselves in a quiet voice or inside their heads. Some examples are: “I need to take three breaths,” “I can do this if I practice more,” “I’m not going to let her get to me,” “That was probably an accident,” or “My mom still loves me, even when I mess up.”

Deep breathing is an effective way to connect the body and the mind in order to move from a fight-or-flight response to problem-solving. The “Flower Breath” is a simple breathing method kids can use. Ask your children to imagine smelling a beautiful flower, breathing in through the nose and breathing out through the mouth, and releasing any stress, strain, or emotion they might be feeling as they exhale.

Problem Solving

Teaching problem-solving means helping kids learn to recognize a social problem, focus on finding solutions, predict consequences, and select a safe and respectful solution.

How to Teach Problem Solving to Kids

When challenges arise with other children, ask your children a series of questions to help them think through the problem. Eventually they’ll be able to ask the questions for themselves. Questions to consider when teaching problem solving are:

•   “What happened?” 

This allows each child to tell his or her story and feel heard before solutions are brainstormed.

•  “How did that feel?” 

Helping kids get clear about how they feel will help clarify what they actually want or need.

·      •  “What did you want/need?” 

Many times we can read situations inaccurately. Asking this question helps focus the brainstorming solutions.

•  “What are other ways to get what you want/need?” 

Let your children brainstorm two or three ideas. It’s okay if they’re not all great ideas! This is just brainstorming. If they can’t come up with ideas on their own, offer them two choices that align with your family’s values.

•  “How would that work for you?” or “What will happen if you try …?”

This is an opportunity to evaluate each of the proposed solutions.

•  “What are you going to do now?” or “What will you try next time?” 

By asking this question, you allow your child to choose how to act differently next time. Expressing a future action out loud increases the likelihood your child will try it.

Managing social dynamics in a school setting can be very stressful for children and their parents. Social-emotional skills can help children de-escalate a conflict, advocate for themselves, and find more acceptable, safe, and socially appropriate ways of getting their needs met when they may be feeling bullied or dismissed.


About the Author: Melissa Benaroya

Melissa Benaroya, LICSW, is a Seattle-based parent coach, speaker and author in the Seattle area (MelissaBenaroya.com). She created the Childproof Parenting online course and is the co-founder of GROW Parenting and Mommy Matters. Melissa provides parents with the tools and support they need to raise healthy children and find more joy in parenting. Melissa offers parent coaching and classes and frequently speaks at area schools and businesses. Check out Melissa’s blog for more great tips on common parenting issues and Facebook for the latest news in parent education!

4 Comments

Paramanantham

Thank you very much for your recent articles,
question need to be answered that Is there any relationship between Anxiety and coldness on legs.
Thank you

Reply
Karen - Hey Sigmund

Anxiety can cause more general changes in body temperature, but it would be worth getting this particular symptom checked by a doctor to make sure there is nothing else that might be causing this.

Reply
Shweta Mg

No cold legs are to do with blood vascular nature and body temperature regulation and feed back, and anxiety is just a disproportionate fear to a stimulant or aggression that the fore brain, primitive fore brain and other primitive behavior regulatory mechanisms allow the individual to experience.
However proverbially and colloquially only by language,they have been associated as in sayings of ” he/ she has the jitters and cold feet.”
My grandfather used to tell me, and I’m Indian myself that Sanskrit and Hindi or even Japanese or other old world texts had words for every associated psychological feeling that English a mixed derived language ( which is of course easy today) lacks to describe. It’s why proverbs a group of words to make phrases have to describe one feeling.

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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