A common concern for parents, particularly of younger children, is the child’s tendency to overreact. This can also be something that adults struggle with at times. One strategy to target this behavior is to help our children recognize how big the problem actually is, and then to match the size of their reaction to the size of the problem.
When I teach this in session, I draw out 2 rows of 4 different sized circles, ranging from tiny to large. The top row is to categorize how big the problem actually is. Not how big it feels, but rather, how big is it actually? This can be the tricky part and often requires practice. It’s helpful for caregivers to model categorizing the size of problems themselves. This allows children to gain a perspective on how big a problem actually is.
For reference, large problems are reserved for the really big life challenges – not having a warm home, not having enough food to eat, someone being sick and a doctor not being able to fix it, etc. Most of our daily problems are tiny, small or somewhere in between. Occasionally we have medium problems.
The second row is to help children (and us adults!) reflect on how big our reactions are. The goal is to match the size of our reaction to the size of the problem. Sometimes it’s even better to have a smaller reaction than the size of the problem.
This is a tool that helps families process overreactions and brainstorm more appropriate responses if a similar problem were to arise in the future. When the child has calmed down, they often can reflect that their reaction size was medium or large, but the problem was either tiny or small. Sometimes caregivers recognize the problem before the child has overreacted. In these instances, gently prompting the child to categorize the size of the problem can help avoid an overreaction.
If you and your child are needing more support around managing emotions, our behavioral health consultants are available to provide additional support!
Annie Gray, LICSW
Behavioral Health ConsultantWestwood-Mansfield Pediatric Associates
“Proactive in your child’s care. Empowering families for over 65 years.”