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How To Curb After-School Stress With Mood Tracking

January 10, 2019

How To Curb After-School Stress With Mood Tracking

We all know what it’s like to let off steam after a stressful day. We walk through the door, a tight ball of emotions, ready to scream, cry, or collapse onto the floor.

Now imagine you’re a child – a pop quiz fourth period, last pick in gym class, and the longest bus ride home with the neighborhood bully. You’re nervous, embarrassed, angry – all on the same day.

How is a young brain supposed to cope with all those feelings?

One way is to completely lose it on everyone and everything once inside the safe confines of home.

As a parent, you’ve probably experienced this first-hand:

Your child comes home. “How was your day?” you ask. Your child bursts into tears, runs to their bedroom, and slams the door. And you’re left wondering, “Was it something I said?”

Sound familiar? You’re not alone.

But don’t worry – there are things you can do to help, and mood tracking is a great place to start.

Children and Their Moods

Children encounter stress the same way adults do, but unlike adults, children’s brains are still developing. They are only partially equipped to deal with intense emotions.

In an article on kids and their emotions published in Psychology Today, clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. explains that, like all humans, children’s brains have a logical left side and an emotional right side. When it comes to emotional stress and meltdowns, children need support with learning how to integrate both sides to manage problems. Parents can help with this by validating their child’s feelings, acknowledging that emotions are temporary, and supporting their child in telling their story once they are calm.

Implementing mood tracking into a consistent after-school routine can support this process.

What is Mood Tracking?

Licensed counselor Christine Taylor, LCPC, describes mood tracking as the straightforward record-keeping of your moods. This can be done via journal, workbook, chart, or any other routine tracking system. Families can use whatever tracking frequency makes sense, but parents who want to curb after-school stress should start by tracking moods every day after school.

Benefits of Mood Tracking

Mood tracking can help reduce after-school stress by providing a safe space for children to process their emotions, but there are other benefits as well.

Mood tracking helps families:

  • Connect mood changes to specific events
  • Share information with doctors, therapists or teachers
  • Identify patterns and triggers
  • Increase self-awareness
  • Improve bonds and relationships
  • Improve ability to communicate feelings more efficiently
  • Increase the use of effective coping skills
  • Improve parent-child communication around mental health challenges like mood swings, meltdowns, and suicidal ideation.

How to Implement Mood Tracking

Here is how to incorporate mood tracking into your after-school routine:

  1. Teach Feeling Words: Parents should review and define feeling words with their children to establish a shared vocabulary from which to draw. This can be done with books, feelings charts, drawing activities and more.
  2. Create A Tracking System: Parents and kids can track moods in whatever way they find most useful. Some families use posters, sticker charts or dry erase boards. Other families like to use worksheets, journals, or apps.
  3. Establish A Tracking Routine: Pick a time that works for your child. Maybe they need to vent as soon as they get home or maybe they need a snack first. Whatever routine you design, ensure there is ample time for you and your child to identify, share and process the moods of the day.
  4. Suggest Coping Strategies: After your child has identified their moods and discussed what they think and feel about them, suggest some effective coping strategies for them to try (i.e. playing outside, taking the pet for a walk, or counting to ten). This helps your child learn to apply their acquired arsenal of coping skills on their own.

Mood Tracking Tools

There are lots of tools available to help you make the most of your mood tracking routine. Here are a few to get you started:

  1. Scaling: Help your child rate the intensity of their moods by assigning a number to each mood they track. Choose a scale from 1-5 or 1-10. You might even ask your child to draw a thermometer that visually depicts the intensity of each mood.
  2. Tracking Worksheets: Create a daily record of your child’s moods by tracking them on paper. There are lots of great examples online, but here’s a worksheet from www.TherapistAid.com to try first.
  3. Visual Aids: Visual aids are an invaluable resource when it comes to helping children communicate their feelings. Flipbooks, posters, and charts with graphics imagery enhance communication for kids. This is especially helpful for children who struggle with verbal self-expression. You can find excellent visual aid resources at My Moods, My Choices. The feelings poster helps make mood tracking fun and the flipbook encourages kids to identify their moods and choose from a variety of suggested coping skills to help manage them.

Mood tracking is a strategy that can help anyone manage their stress, however, some families appreciate the additional support of a therapist. For more information, visit https://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/parents-caregivers.

 

Hayley Wilds, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor, writer, and mom with more than 15 years of experience working with kids and families.




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