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

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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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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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