I grew up with the saying “strike while the iron is hot.” Which means to do something immediately when the opportunity presents itself. It comes from the late 1300s in reference to a blacksmith’s forge. Iron is more pliable when it is glowing red hot and struck with a mallet or other tool. It is one of those idiomatic sayings like “make hay while the sun shines.” Sometimes children may have the appearance of glowing red-hot in a full out tantrum, but we would never literally strike them, or use that time to discuss their behaviors. We have more success when we approach children when their mood is neutral or cool. Additionally, we need to be cool or neutral ourselves when we approach a child. Generally, after an incident, we are all feeling sorry and helpless in ways that do not help us focus on the situation. Even adults need a time out sometimes!
Rage is one of those core emotional systems that kicks in when we feel like we are being physically or mentally restrained. Frustration is part of our core emotional system, as is anger. We have the ability to rage from birth as it as a type of energizer to get us to safety.
These emotional states are signals that there is a problem. Children do not yet have the ability to soothe themselves like adults do. We can use self-talk, change our situation, call a friend, or eat some chocolate. Children on the other hand, have all of these emotions without knowing exactly what to do about them.
After a short time, when children return to themselves and are ready to listen, it is helpful to find a quiet space to talk about the situation. Asking a “why” question doesn’t result in a reasonable answer for children under 6 years of age. Children really don’t know why they threw themselves on the ground and kicked and screamed, or threw a block across the room. A better approach would be to state the emotion you witnessed, “You seemed very angry (frustrated) when you threw the block across the room and started crying.” This puts a name to the feeling and helps develop language skills for the future.
One of our jobs as the adult is to offer options, or suggestions of what the child could have done differently. Things like using their words, asking for help, or waiting for a turn. Another suggestion is to tell a story about a fictional child (or about you when you were little) in the same situation and describing what that child did to rectify the situation – always with the choice that is win-win for everyone. In this way you are teaching lessons about appropriate behavior and giving examples of what to do in a similar situation.
Another helpful, proactive role-playing scenario of “What if?” questions is to start a conversation like “What if your friend took the toy you were playing with? How would you feel? What would you do?” One of the solutions would be to get adult help if you were having trouble solving the problem. Striking while the iron is cool encourages children to learn from mistakes with help from a calm, understanding adult. Our goal at Twin Parks Montessori Schools is to teach children to name their feelings and to express them in appropriate ways. We want our children to feel safe, talk about their situation, and reduce their feelings of helplessness and meltdowns.