My Learning Curve: EMDR and a Plan for Big Feelings


Everyone has “big feelings.”  As parents, we begin helping our children cope with their feelings from the time they are tiny. They learn that feelings don’t last forever and that parents can help them calm themselves. Remaining in control while coping with “big feelings” is a challenge for all kids, but especially for children from “hard places” whose needs were not met, whose parents did not comfort and soothe them, or who felt so unsafe that the “big feelings” never really calmed at all.

While it was important to work on coping strategies for those lightening bolts (triggers),  we also recognized that sometimes those big feelings come anyhow and then we need a strategy to cope with them.  In other words, we need to have a plan to move from dysregulation to regulation – without drama in the middle.  Our kids need to know that they are in charge of their feelings and they can cope with them.

We created a plan with distinct steps.  Here is the basic framework:

1.  When I have big feelings I will say, “……”  For example a key phrase might be, “I need to take a break.”

2.  I will go to _______________________.  (The child chooses a specific location in the house – ideally not the bedroom, which is a place for rest. It also can’t be a location which involves making other kids stop what they are doing and move e.g. the family room. )

3.  In that place I will have ____________________.  (The child selects specific things that will be kept there e.g. an ipod, drawing materials, blanket, etc.  Whatever the child finds calming.)

4.  Mom and Dad will check on me while I am there.  (No talking necessary with the exception of saying, “I’m right here.”)

5.  I will rejoin the family when I feel calm. (This is not a consequence, punishment, time-out, time-in, etc.   When the child is calm, it is over.)

6.  Later (maybe even a couple of hours later) I can talk with Mom and Dad about the lightening bolts that triggered the big feelings.  We would not press for this, but we would make an effort to explore it if Dimples is willing.

Our goal is self-regulation and shrinking those lightening bolts.  We worked on all of this with EMDR, so we hope it is well-organized in Dimples’ brain and she can access it when the plan is needed.

The work we did is causing me to reflect on how I cope with triggers – what is my plan for “big feelings?”  Being grumpy with Russ and the kids is not acceptable, nor is eating large quantities of chocolate.

Today I am ordering The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind.  I’ve  had it on my Amazon list for awhile; I’m going to bump it to the top based on Cathy’s recommendation.  Have you read it? What did you think?

[This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.]

I hope your week is off to a great start.

Lisa

This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

23 Comments

  1. Paula Miles Spears
    September 24, 2012

    I haven't read that book either… plan to look into it!

    Reply
  2. Angela
    September 24, 2012

    Thanks for this post! It was very timely for our situation. We are def. trying to figure out how to help our 7 yr old deal with her "big feelings" without wreaking havoc to the whole family (our family isn't quite as large as yours, but we do have six kiddos!)!!

    Reply
  3. Dawn Wright
    September 24, 2012

    I like this idea!!!!! Have not read the book.

    Reply
  4. thejessicarudder
    September 24, 2012

    I love this! I think I need a plan like this in place for myself (when in certain situations with my husband).

    My current method is to stay in the thick of things because leaving/taking a break feels like it would be escalating things; however, by staying in the middle of a situation I'm not handling well, I usually end up getting more and more frustrated until a little thing becomes a full argument.

    Reply
  5. gobbelcounseling
    September 24, 2012

    The Whole Brained Child is hands down my favorite parenting book right now, for parents of ALL children. Daniel Siegel is a genius and the book is very readable.

    Reply
  6. Denise
    September 24, 2012

    I read it. Also based on Cathy's recommendations. Good book.

    Reply
  7. sleighs79
    September 24, 2012

    I loved The Whole Brain Child so much that I did a whole blog series on it. I borrowed it from the library, but it is on my list to purchase because there is so much in there for all ages of development. It put a lot of things that I knew from experience more concisely and focused than I was able to do and really gave me a lot of simple explanations to share both with my kids and with others.

    Reply
  8. Emily
    September 24, 2012

    "The work we did is causing me to reflect on how I cope with triggers – what is my plan for “big feelings?” Being grumpy with Russ and the kids is not acceptable, nor is eating large quantities of chocolate."

    Ugh. Are you sure chocolate's not acceptable? 🙂

    So proud of Dimples and all of you. xoxo

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 24, 2012

      It's the "large quantities" that is the problem 🙂 It looks like lots of us adults need to work on our plans for Big Feelings.

      Reply
  9. mamitaj
    September 24, 2012

    I need a plan for me. I like these simple steps. I think it would work for Cupcake too. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  10. the worker bee
    September 24, 2012

    What a wonderful process! Not just for those from hard places, but anyone. I know sometimes I have big, blown up feelings and don't really take care of them like I should. Thanks for sharing!!

    Reply
  11. Shari
    September 24, 2012

    Great tips! I wish I had these with my daughter when she was young. I think these are great stepping stones to what we all should aim for in running to the Lord when we have big feelings. Perhaps we practice by running to the Laundry Room and color a page today, but somehow we want to transfer that concept to running the the Lord and being comforted by Him. I have found Psalm 119 to be a great teaching tool to show me HOW to run to God and yell for help.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 24, 2012

      Shari – that is so great. Thank you for taking this to the next good step of learning to rely on the Lord and calm ourselves in Him. Thank you.

      Reply
  12. sleepyknitter
    September 24, 2012

    Loved this post and shared it. Haven't read Whole-Brained Child but want to after reading this post and other commentors' opinions. Also love Shari's comments about these concepts being stepping stones for running to the Lord. I so often wish your posts and your readers' comments were in a book! Or maybe I just wish you could come live at my house for a week and teach me everything you've learned about how to help our treasures thrive. Thank you so much for your faithfulness in blogging!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 24, 2012

      There is a book in the works, but it is slow going! I love the comments too and learn so much from everyone. I'm wondering if there is a way we could all discuss The Whole-Brain Child together — maybe in a series of blog posts with comments, or maybe another way. I'm looking forward to reading it.

      Reply
      1. Angela Atkison Dormish
        September 25, 2012

        I ordered it this morning, and look forward to reading it with you. I'm teaching a Brain Games class this year, so I'm hoping that I can use some of what I learn there as well as in our home.

        Reply
  13. A Litzinger
    September 24, 2012

    Thank you so much for this!! I have an adult adopted daughter who is just coming to this stage of healing and I know this is going to be a tool that I can modify for our situation. It is truly a "God-Timing" to because we just had this long discussion about this last night. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.

    Reply
  14. sleepyknitter
    September 24, 2012

    A question about the "plan" you describe above — although the child is not being "sent" away from the family, which seems kinda "anti-Purvis," does this self-designated area away from the family not create the same separating impact on the child? Just curious. We have one who has relatively mild but stressful-for-all-of-us meltdowns that last four or five hours every evening after school (probably due to the stress and fear of having been at school), and we would LOVE for her to calm down in another room, but one of her primary triggers is any sort of abandonment, even something as simple as our not being able to accompany her to the kitchen to put away a dish she has finished using. For instance, if I'm in the middle of changing another child's diaper, and that causes this child to feel neglected, she'll say that she needs me to go with her to the bathroom, and I'll ask if she can wait a moment, and that makes her feel abandoned and starts a meltdown that can last for hours (this is a child who has been with us since she was six months old and is now five). We are always looking for ways to help her cope with the abandonment she feels at school and at home in small areas and big.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 24, 2012

      I should have mentioned that one part of the plan is that mom or dad stays close and quietly repeats, "I'm right here," from time to time. In our case, too much interaction (even being in her visual space) may trigger bigger feelings in times like this, so our plan is to stand just outside the open door. I wonder if your daughter needs to create a plan that can happen near to you. Maybe a bean bag chair in the corner of the room with a basket containing the things she needs to work her plan. She is also quite a bit younger than Dimples, so her ability to do a plan apart from you may not be realistic. I know some therapists read my blog, maybe one of them can chime in.

      Reply
      1. Tricia
        September 25, 2012

        I say WAY too much. I'm right here is enough…..

        Reply
  15. Angela
    September 24, 2012

    Thank you so much for sharing all that you have learned. We have a 4 year old foster kiddo that has lived with us for a year and a half and has suddenly really started struggling with behaviors, etc. I just started The Whole Brain Child and have started trying some different things with him. I have learned so much from your journey with Dimples! Thank you again for sharing with us!

    Reply
    1. Mandy
      September 24, 2012

      Angela, we have an almost 4 year old foster kiddo, too, who has been with us for a year. He recently started experiencing more intense behaviors as well!! I wonder what triggers them so far down the road?

      "The Whole Brain Child" … interesting. I'll have to look that one up!! Blessings to you and yours.

      Reply
  16. Mandy
    September 24, 2012

    HAHA! I JUST emailed you this morning about how to deal with anger (a big strong feeling) in our almost 4 year old (soon-to-be-adopted) son. These are very helpful tips!!! Thank you, once again!!!

    Reply

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