We have fire drills to prepare for fires, we have active shooter drills, we attend sports practices and music lessons. If we understand that a skill takes time and practice, or that to respond well in an emergency we need to practice for it – why don’t we do the same for handling big feelings?
Schools don’t just “tell” students what to do – they actually do it! We know that you don’t pick up that guitar the first time the night of the concert. Why do we not practice for emotion dysregulation or fight-flight (Tiger is awake)? Why do we expect kids to immediately be able to handle overwhelming feelings? Why do we just tell them what to do rather than practice doing it?
If we know a certain situation is going to bring on tears or a meltdown – why not practice for that? “I am not for hitting but you may pound on the mattress – here let’s practice.” Practice needs to be done when they are calm. You don’t teach someone to swim when they are drowning do you? You save them and then later you work on teaching and practicing. Now you may get this look if they aren’t upset because they aren’t feeling the big feelings right then so the idea of practicing may seem silly….
However if you show them acceptable ways to express themselves, give them permission to practice it – when that next meltdown is coming – they are way more likely to go to the acceptable behavior rather than just react or act out in the moment. This is why police and military practice over and over again. When in an emergency you revert to how you have been trained. For all of us but kids (traumatized kids especially!) our brains can go into fight-flight (Tiger wakes up!) for a lot of different reasons that may not make much sense – but it happens. When we are in that state – it’s hard to remember what we have been told to do. However if we have practiced what to do – and we have the support of a loved one – we are more likely to do the right thing. And the beautiful thing is that the more we do the acceptable thing – the more self regulation we are gaining and when that same feeling arises we may not go all the way to fight or flight as we are learning to manage those big feelings. It’s like riding a bike!
How cool is that?
So starting to have Tiger Drills will tame that Tiger!!!
Remember these tips….
Practice when calm
Focus on what they can do – not just what they can’t
Find a replacement behavior close to their go to – ie hitting – pound on mattress, throws things – throw pillows.
Support in doing the replacement behavior
Don’t try to teach when drowning – if they don’t do the right thing – wait until they are calm to discuss-practice again.
Let me know how your “Tiger Drills” go……