Charlotte Clark from The Happy Human Project is a huge advocate of looking after children's mental health and wellbeing. Her fantastic company is dedicated to helping young people manage their emotions, feel confident and love themselves inside and out so that they can lead happy and compassionate lives. Here's what Charlotte has to say about conquering the 'Emotion Monsters':
I've always been a doodler. I could never find the words to explain why my notes from studying were covered in funny scribbles, lines and shapes, but fast-forward to today and I can now understand that my doodles were helping me to relax and retain information.
I've been teaching relaxation, happiness and emotional wellbeing to children for several years now and I use a variety of mindful strategies mixed with Laughter Yoga and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique or tapping) to give kids the ability to self-regulate and cope with difficult emotions.
Big, overwhelming feelings come with the territory when you're a child and that's because of how the brain develops. Children often find themselves in states of Fight, Flight or Freeze because their Amygdala is so sensitive, and their Pre-frontal cortex is still in its developing stages. This means they’re less able to be rational and reasonable than a fully-grown adult which is why it's so crucial we teach them ways of coping with stress from a young age.
Strategies like mindful breathing, yoga, massage and tapping are fantastic for self-regulation in children. They all trigger a relaxation response in the nervous system, slowing the heart rate, the breath and busy thoughts. They increase feelings of wellbeing, positivity and peace whilst allowing our bodies to process and release stress.
Doodling and colouring do the same thing. The creative right-side of the brain loves these activities because they are so soothing and require little logical thought, planning or consideration. So even if your child can’t verbalise why they’re crying or why today was the “worst day ever”, they can still use a colouring pen and let go of stressful thoughts and feelings that way.
So how can you use art and doodling to help children to manage and process big emotions? Here are some of my favourite strategies:
1. Line Art: Ask your child to draw just one continuous line to describe how they’re feeling about ……….. (fill in the blank). This will give them an outlet for processing what they’re feeling and possibly a way of communicating that to you. It may be that they draw the line and don’t want to talk to you about it, and that’s fine too. It’s important we respect a child’s boundaries, and often giving them space when they need it will encourage them to come to you when they feel ready.
2. Just colour: Some children love an empty sheet of paper, others need a little more structure. For many children, there’s nothing more calming and therapeutic than being able to focus their full attention on keeping inside the lines or creating a masterpiece. Any time a shy child walks into my classroom I like to focus their energy straight away on a fun colouring activity. Immediately, the child is then engaged and busy and no longer worried about a daunting room full of people. eatsleepdoodle’s colour in tablecloths have proved hugely popular and a great tool in this instance; their educational designs like the world map and pond and wildlife are not only huge fun for kids (or adults!) to colour in, but also a brilliant conversation starter between children. It’s lovely hearing the kids ask questions, tell each other facts and jokes and enjoy working together to create a wonderful masterpiece! Best of all, the ink totally disappears on a warm machine wash, so the tablecloths can be used and enjoyed again and again!
3. Draw your monster emotions: You may wish to do this with your child to encourage their engagement with it. Our difficult feelings are like misunderstood monsters. They feel scary and sometimes make us do bad things; but what they actually need is for us to see them and take care of them. This exercise helps your children get to know their monsters. Start with an emotion your child is familiar with, like Anger. What colour is it? What shape is it? Does it have ten eyes? Fluffy hair? Again, this might give you another avenue into opening up a conversation, or it might just be something that your children do for the fun of it. Either one is great!
Children lack the ability to think as rationally as adults because that part of their brains isn’t fully developed yet. Despite this, there are so many strategies that children can learn when they’re in a calm state of mind to use in those moments of meltdown and stress. Give some of these alternative strategies for self-regulation a go and see what opportunities for self-reflection and connection they bring you and your child!
Charlotte Clark, founder of The Happy Human Project