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  • Writer's pictureLena Agree JD, PsyD

Help Your Nanny with Your Child "The Whole-Brain Child" Way ~ Words to Lower Emotions (Part 3 of 4)



Using Words to Lower Emotions


In the last article we discussed methods your nanny can use to help your child manage big feelings. Because of the biology of your child’s brain, s/he is easily overwhelmed by emotions. The cognitive, rational parts of the brain develop last (unfortunately), and the whole process takes about 25 years. Therefore, treating children like small adults who experience emotions and think the way we do, doesn't work. Children require special strategies. The storytelling strategies from The Whole-Brain Child, by Siegel and Bryson, provide an easy and fun way for you and your nanny to continuously help your child manage big emotions.


The key to making big feelings smaller is turning them into words (or even pictures – something they can see). This makes them manageable because the feelings become something they can identify or make sense of.

Strategy #2: Storytelling: Telling stories about what happened during the day is a great way to help your child develop the skills to manage emotions. When you know something emotional has happened to a child, telling stories about it helps them make sense of it and feel better. The authors explain,


To tell a story that makes sense, the left brain must put things in order, using words and logic. The right brain contributes the bodily sensations, raw emotions, and personal memories, so we can see the whole picture and communicate our experience. (p. 29)


You can help the child by offering prompts (“Do you remember when we saw that boy fall?”; “And then what happened?”), sharing in the storytelling process (“and then you cried”), highlighting emotional aspects (“You were really scared weren’t you”), empathizing (“I think I would be scared too if that happened to me”), and offering other people’s perspectives (for children over 3 years old) (“Do you think that boy was scared too”?).


Using props like dolls or puppets is also a good strategy, as well as drawing pictures. Often retelling the story multiple times is necessary. The more distressing the event, the more times the child may need to rehash it.


If a child is too distressed to talk about an event, the authors suggest telling the story to the child and giving the child the “remote control” - allowing the child to pause the story whenever he or she is too uncomfortable and fast-forwarding to the next part that is tolerable. Repeating the process should bring relief, allowing the child to eventually review the entire episode (pp. 81-83).


Children are emotionally affected by things all the time, so making this a ritual is quite beneficial, even when nothing really big has occurred. Then, when something difficult does happen, your child has already developed some skills to manage it.


Having a nanny with strong verbal skills, creativity and imagination, who enjoys storytelling can be beneficial in this regard, and may be something to consider with small children.


See part 4 of this series to learn strategies for Managing Tantrums.


Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, P. H. D. T. P.(2012).The whole-brain child.Random House.


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