Understanding feelings and emotions is vital to good communication, but both are very abstract concepts. A child or youth with FASD may need concrete methods to help recognize what she is feeling. Therefore, teach emotions in a concrete way (e.g., smiling means happy.)
■ A “check-in” time for internal feelings will help in stating which feelings are physical and concrete.
■ After an outburst, talk about what your child felt during the meltdown; for example, a beating heart, sweaty hands, hot face. Attach the concrete feeling to the meltdown so she can begin to identify what feelings are connected to certain behaviours.
■ In order to be able to act appropriately to any emotion, your child must first have some way to recognize concretely what she is feeling. That feeling must then be named and “rules” for appropriate reaction to that feeling must be made.
■ Create a “feelings” dictionary, using line-drawings of complete stick men rather than just facial expressions for those most common feelings the child is likely to experience. A complete body can show more than just a face and is much easier for the child to associate with what he is feeling. Have one emotion per page.
■ Always name emotions very clearly. With teens and adults, name the emotion first and then follow with the words their friend’s use (“angry” vs. “pissed off”).
■ To encourage emotional expression, use a gingerbread man outline drawing and simple colour codes (e.g.,red for anger, blue for sad, yellow for happy, and gray for blank). Have your child colour on the gingerbread man where he has those feelings. This can give you a quick and immediate idea of the state of emotional health (e.g., red in the head and the hands is a good indicator of being ready to “lose it”; gray in the head and on the body is a good indication of being “shut down”). This will help, especially when the child is not able to verbalize her thoughts and feelings.
. ■ Once the feeling is identified correctly, have a simple plan to help the child. For instance: • “Losing it” – use calm down technique • Caregiver is “ticked off” – stand still, look at caregiver and listen • “Tired” – lie down and rest • “Frustrated” – have a list of physical activities that she can do and have her choose between two • “Angry” – express it physically in a previously identified acceptable and safe manner