Riding the Emotional Wave - Our Session with Kids and Teens Psychology

We were grateful to engage the services of Matt Strickland from from Kids and Teens Psychology and were thrilled to have 30 QCE parents attend the session with us. 

I will start by saying, for any Psychologist out there... I am not one :) So feel free to add to my notes as I am just a mere cheer coach who is best trying to convey what I took from the session.

The major take away (from my perspective) was about the concept of the "Emotional Wave" - whereby when there is something that might be triggering for your child: a stressful situation like an upcoming competition, an assignment, a speech they have to give, having an issue with a friend at school etc, we see their emotions start to rise. We also see that the emotion will gradually and eventually fall away, as they move through these feelings, the stressor passes etc.

I thought it was helpful to think of emotions like this, and to convey to your children that emotions are always temporary - (except if there is a more long term issue, which should be addressed in a different way).

As a secondary part to this concept, was the idea of when/where and how to intervene as your child is riding the wave. For example, at the beginning, when the emotion has just taken hold, i.e a bit of anxiousness about an upcoming event - this might be where we can use acknowledgement and validation i.e. "this must be very difficult for you," "I can see how that might be making you feel..." etc. When the emotion is reaching the top of the wave, your child might be in a state past where words are useful, and either giving them some space, i.e. "I am just going to give you to some time to process this, but I am just outside." Or giving them some tools to calm, "I am going to run a bath for you" or "let's watch a bit of TV/go for a walk" and then once they are down the other side of the wave, you might be able to begin the process of acknowledgement and validation again.

The final part was about the physicality of the brain - which I thought was the most helpful part of the presentation. I found it really relevant to understand what was actually happening inside the brain when emotions are taking hold - and the impact this has, especially upon children and teens, who are less able to control this process.

You can see a diagram here: 


As you can see in the diagram, the limbic system is a smaller part of the brain. This is the part of the brain that takes over during these times of overwhelm when we are in "flight or fight"... otherwise known as a teen meltdown (or toddler, in my experience!). If we link this back to the Emotional Wave, this is the part of the brain your child is acting from when in the grips of strong emotion.

The other part of the brain in the diagram is the frontal cortex - this is the part of the brain responsible for memory, judgement, impulse control and social behaviour.

Interestingly, when we are responding to a stressor, blood drains from the frontal context to the limbic system, meaning, that the brain is unable to access the parts of the brain it really needs to access, to deal rationally with what is presenting in their life at that moment.

By helping out child ride up and over the wave with the strategies outlined above (and in the handout attached to this), we are helping them come back from the reptilian brain, into their rational brain, where they may actually be able to problem solve and deal with the issue themselves, as they are now physically able to, as their frontal cortext is now back online.

I hope you found this helpful - please feel to add any learnings you found useful. I really enjoyed learning more about this and have been applying this to my son Julian (who is 2), when he is having a full body melt-down about Peanut Butter on his toast rather than Vegemite... "I know that you really wanted Peanut Butter mate, that must be really hard for you.." - sounds silly, but it's serious business to a 2 year old, as anyone with a toddler would know.

- Shannon

Jaidev Vasudevan