Anger Control Stoplight for Kids

Saturday, July 21, 2012 3 comments

My 2 boys have very opposite personalities. My first has always been very easy-going, compassionate, somewhat cautious/anxious, and not an aggressive bone in his body. My second is more independent, strong-willed, and fiery. Those are not bad attributes at all; quite the contrary, actually. Both boys' personalities are wonderful in their own ways. They also require different things.

My fiery one is more aggressive and is coming out of a hitting phase. Starting right before he turned 3, for a good 4 or 5 months, that boy hit someone 10 times an hour, usually his older brother, who always shied away from confrontation.  I tried what felt like 50 different "techniques" to get him to not hit, and I don't think any of them "worked" so much as he just outgrew that phase. He's 3-1/2 now and he doesn't hit nearly as often as he used to, but his temper is still quick.

I happened across this free printable online for my kids to color one day. We talked about it, and I hung it on the refrigerator as a reminder. I hadn't planned on this becoming a "thing" at our house, but it has evolved into a very helpful tool for all of us.

Red - Stop
Yellow - Calm Down
Green - Go

For the first few weeks this was hanging on the refrigerator, I would only occasionally refer to it when someone got angry. "What should we do first? What does the red light mean?" One would chime in, "It means stop!!"

They totally got this little stoplight, so, I ran with it. We have talked extensively about each step on this stoplight. I've given them tools to use at each step.

Red light! I say this when I see one of the kids (or both) getting hot under the collar. I've given them several options to do during red light, including walk away, sit down, and take deep breaths. If someone is very angry and I see that he will need help red lighting, I step in and offer my assistance. "Let's take a walk together" or "Put up your moose antlers and let's take 3 deep breaths."

Yellow light!  Next is calm down time. Again, I've taught them several different ways they can calm down. Draw a picture, look through a book, pop balloons, shake the calm down jar, etc.This is not a go-sit-in-a-chair-for-x-amount-of-time-and-calm-yourself-down kinda thing at all.  And again, if someone needs help, I offer it. "Would you like to draw me a picture?" or "Would a hug help you?"

Green light! Go! I usually don't even have to say this one as once the child is calmed down and we've discussed the issue if it needed discussed, then he merrily goes about his way.

This is a really good tool to use in conjunction with teaching emotional intelligence. Used on its own and without offering the child assistance in the steps or teaching alternatives, it may not be very useful, and certainly this could be spun into something punitive, but that is not how we roll here. When I give these verbal cues, it is a loving reminder to take a breather and collect yourself, and its not just for the kids. I've told them to feel free to say, "Red light, Mom!" if I start to lose my cool. We can all use the reminder sometimes.

Ignoring Their Cries

Friday, July 20, 2012 19 comments
Would you ignore her cries?



What about hers?

Mormor  Of course not?

Then why on Earth would you ignore hers?

Big Tears Are OK

I am, at times, taken aback by the practices we, culturally, will accept and perform without question.

A friend recently asked for advice on her Facebook page because she said her child's (a preschooler) reaction to anything was to cry.  As I set there reading her friends' recommendations, my heart sank. Most all of them told her to ignore him when he cries. Some said to punish him or send him away, and my thought was my goodness, where is the empathy?

Empathy is lacking in American culture all over the board, but a severe lack of empathy in dealing with children's emotions is disturbingly prevalent.  We are given the advice to ignore them almost as soon as they come out of the womb in a sad and misguided attempt to "train" them, from allowing them to helplessly cry in their crib so that they learn to "self-soothe" to ignoring the screams of a distressed toddler so she doesn't "continue throwing fits for attention" to ignoring the cries of preschoolers and older children so as not to spoil them, and, for boys, feminize them. (Yes, sadly that is still a problem).

Our friends tells us they do it. The internet tells us it is okay. Some parenting experts advise it. Perhaps even your pediatrician may recommend it. However, the fact that everyone else is doing it doesn't make it right, neither does the fact that it is socially acceptable. I could bore you with study after study of the negative effects on children's brains and emotional development when they are ignored, left to cry alone without the comfort a parent's loving arms, but for goodness' sake, I shouldn't have to. Where is our moral compass?

How did we come to accept and believe it is okay to ignore our children when they are upset? Is it the lack of empathy shown to us when we were children that makes it so easy for us to be apathetic to it?
What a child doesn't receive, he can seldom later give. - P.D. James
It seems we have come to the conclusion that there are only 2 options. Give in to their cries, thereby spoiling them and turning them into dreadful brats, or ignoring them to keep that from happening.

But there is a wonderful third option! One that doesn't give in to the child, nor isolate the child.

EMPATHY.  It doesn't come easily to many of us, especially if we were deprived of it as children ourselves, but it can, and should be, learned and passed down generation to generation. I will not, for the sake of post length, get into allowing infants to cry-it-out as I will certainly go off on a tangent, but for toddlers, preschoolers, and the older child, it looks something like this.

Your toddler is tired and cranky.  The slightest thing sends him over the edge into a huge crying fit. I can tell you with certainty that he is not breaking down for his benefit. He is not manipulating you or trying to make your life difficult. He is overwhelmed, and giving him comfort will no more make him want to have more meltdowns than your friend giving you a shoulder to lean on will make you want to have to lean on her more. Don't withhold affection or attention during his time of distress. He needs you.


If your preschooler wants a cookie for breakfast, and you deny her the cookie causing her to cry, there is no need to ignore her OR give her the cookie. The third option allows you to say "I see that you are upset over the cookie. You really want it, but that isn't a healthy breakfast and I want you to be healthy." Understand her view. Validate her feelings. She is a human being.

If your older child pouts or cries because you won't buy him a new video game, sending him to his room isn't going to resolve his feelings, but only cause more negative feelings to build. You know what it is like to want things and not be able to get them. You probably experience that feeling every payday! I do! Empathize. "You're upset about the video game. I know what that feels like. I'm sorry you're feeling this way. I just cannot get it right now." Sure, it may require a whole lot more patience from you than sending him away or blocking him out, but remember...
You're not managing an inconvenience, you're raising a human being. - Kittie Frantz


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