| Connect Two |

The Driver: Part IV

“Model resilience. It takes thought and perseverance but the payoff is fantastic — a calmer child, a calmer life”


Mother: Shloimy still gets upset, but he’s much more willing and able to discuss the problem.

Sister: The house doesn’t totally revolve around Shloimy anymore. I get some attention too!

Shloimy: Life is easier when I’m calm.

As Shloimy’s emotional awareness develops, our work turns to giving him tools to deal with his overpowering feelings [This is cognitive work: Shloimy has to accept that even when he gets triggered, it’s his responsibility to regain control].

I hand Shloimy a picture. “Know what this is?”

“A brain.”

“Exactly.” I draw a horizontal line across the brain. “Look, you have an ‘upstairs brain’ and a ‘downstairs brain.’ ” I put a picture of a house on top of the brain, and hand him a menschie. “Take this menschie to one of the rooms in the house,” I tell him.

Shloimy moves the menschie to the playroom.

“What are you doing there?” I ask.

“Zooming my cars!”

“Okay, and now Mr. Menschie’s feeling tired. Where’s he gonna go?”

“To bed, I guess.”

I take the menschie and march him up the stairs. “The upstairs and downstairs are used for different purposes,” I say. “We eat and play downstairs, and sleep and take showers upstairs. Your brain also has an upstairs and downstairs, used for different things. Your upstairs brain has rooms for planning, thinking, and imagining calm feelings. But the downstairs brain is used for strong, impulsive reactions.”

I move Shloimy’s favorite car smoothly along the desk. “The upstairs brain is like this car driving smoothly on the highway.”

I swerve the car erratically. “The downstairs brain is like a speeding car that is out of control. When you find yourself ‘downstairs,’ you need to march up the stairs and calm down.”

“Like taking a nap in one of the bedrooms!” Shloimy crows [Shloimy’s ability to grasp this concept and make this connection indicates his progress both in understanding emotions and the lessening of his fear of facing and discussing them].

I nod. “Let me show you a trick that will help you remember.” I open my hand. “My fingers are the upstairs brain and my palm is the downstairs brain.” Shloimy opens his own hand and listens intently. “The thumb is the staircase. Sometimes when you’re playing downstairs” — I touch my palm — “you get really wild, out of control.” I open my fingers wide, then slowly lower each finger so they touch the thumb. “When that happens, you need to ‘go upstairs,’ to start using your upstairs brain to calm down.”

Shloimy needs tools for this exercise, too, so we brainstorm and choose the one that makes the most sense.

“It’s all about practice,” I reassure Miriam. “As he gets used to thinking this way, it’ll become second nature. You can help him by modeling. Talk about your emotions. When you’re upset, nervous, even excited, name the emotion and identify the trigger.

“ ‘I’m so excited our cousins are coming for Shabbos! I’m also nervous about the cooking.’ Talk through the problem-solving aloud, talk about acceptance and gam zu l’tovah [The recognition that everything is orchestrated by Hashem for our good is the ultimate “calm-down tool.” It’s not too early for Shloimy to be taught this truth].

“Model resilience. It takes thought and perseverance but the payoff is fantastic — a calmer child, a calmer life.”

“I do think the tantrums are decreasing,” Miriam acknowledges.

“That’s great. He’s learning that there’s no need to be afraid of his feelings. He’s the one in the driver’s seat.”

Take It Home

If you or your child struggles to regulate their emotions, here are some tools that can help:

Step 1: Identify the emotion and name it.

Step 2: Identify what triggered the emotion.

Step 3: Accept the existence of the problem and acknowledge that it was meant to be.

Step 4: Rate the problem on a scale of one to ten.

Step 5: Calibrate your reaction to match the size of the problem.

Step 6: Focus on solving the problem. Think of several solutions and pick the one that’s most likely to succeed.

Step 7: Accept problems that can’t be solved and acknowledge that they’re meant to be. Train yourself and your children to say, “Gam zu l’tovah, this is from Hashem, He knows what’s best for me.”

Step 8: Let go of the negative emotion and attain a calm state.

D. Himy is a speech-language pathologist in private practice and creator of the Link-It and STARPower curriculums. The fictional characters in this column represent typical client profiles.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 668)


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