Next time you feel yourself starting to get upset, you might grab a pinwheel.
That’s what the 5-year-olds in Lisa Yesitis’s class do. And if it works for them, it can work for anybody.
Yesitis, a licensed social worker at the Ron Wood Family Resource Center in Carson City, began teaching the class this spring for families whose children have trouble regulating their emotions.
“This really is about teaching the parents how to help their kids,” said Yesitis, who has offered a similar course for 12- to 18-year-olds called FIRE. “If the kids aren’t getting the support at home to change, they aren’t going to change.”
Social workers and school counselors saw the value of teaching older students how to get control over their emotions and realized they could apply the same principles to children as young as 5.
In some instances, angry flare-ups had resulted in serious incidents in Carson City schools — children throwing things at teachers, running away from the school grounds and even choking other children.
Creating a program called IGNITE, Yesitis quickly filled a couple of classes with seven families each in May, then held more classes in June. They’ll be scheduling another soon at the Ron Wood Center.
“We saw the need, and we’re here to fill it,” said Joyce Buckingham, the center’s director. Partnership Carson City is helping to fund the classes.
Although most of the families are referred through Carson City schools, anybody with a child age 5 to 11 can sign up by calling the center at 884-2269.
The classes are free and meet twice over the course of two weeks at the center, 2621 Northgate Lane. The materials are available in Spanish, too.
“Children unable to cope with the demands of their world often act out while at school with displays of anger or other negative behaviors. Sometimes these events are small and easily resolved while others can bring instruction to a complete stop,” said Richard Stokes, superintendent of Carson City schools. “When student disruptive behavior impacts school, administrators are often challenged with providing successful emotional strategies for students and practical support tools for families.
“I was excited to learn that the Ron Wood Center is introducing the IGNITE program which is specifically designed to offer strategies of support for students aged 5-11 years and their families. The district has been a long-time partner with the Ron Wood Center and I am grateful our schools will have access to this additional resource.”
In the class, the kids get a toolbox with cards showing emotions they’re having — worried or confused or scared.
Yesitis encourages them to “tell me what you’re really feeling.”
Then they can turn to different cards that give them ways to deal with those feelings, like writing about it or going outside to play.
She teaches them how to recognize the signs they’re becoming angry — increased heart rate, flushed face — by having them run in place or do jumping jacks. When she compares it to the Snickers TV commercials for candy bars, they understand how people change when they’re upset.
Once the kids and their parents recognize the warning signs, they know “we need to calm down before we can go anywhere,” explained Yesitis.
They learn how to be kind to themselves and others, be respectful of property and pick up other skills to get a handle on their emotions.
That’s where, for example, the pinwheels come in.
She attaches a plastic flower to the stem, so the kids can take a deep breath like they’re smelling the flower. Then they blow on the pinwheel and take another deep breath.
It works for parents, too.
“Kids are always leaving this place with pinwheels,” she said.
It helps if they can see the practical side, too, like when they’re asking Mom or Dad for a new video game. Does it work to throw a tantrum, or do they have a better chance if they try a more positive approach?
One key is called the Circle of Control, which illustrates the kinds of things you can change — your thoughts, your words, your own choices and actions. Next is your circle of influence, which shows the ways you can have an effect on others by talking to them, being a team player and helping out.
Surprisingly, even the youngest kids grasp the idea that what they do reflects on the people around them, said Yesitis, who has been leading a variety of programs in psychoeducational counseling at the Ron Woods Center over the past dozen years.
For example, she compares their overheated emotions with a bed of kindling that can be set ablaze with just a spark. Kids are proud when they weren’t the ones to start the fire.
Is it working?
Parents are required to attend the class with their children, and they come away with better ways to deal with angry children. The evaluations so far are all positive, says Buckingham, the center’s director.
They can provide an IGNITE curriculum for teachers, and they are training interns and social workers to provide similar counseling at Carson City’s schools.
By starting at such an early age, she noted, they learn skills to use throughout their lives.