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Calming Your Child with a Plan B

Two young children are standing in separate lines side by side at a local McDonalds eagerly waiting for the opportunity to order their Happy Meals. Like many kids however, it’s not the Chicken Nuggets that they are focused on, but rather the toy that comes with each order. Both children are equally eager with anticipation .

The child in the line on the left finally reaches the front and enthusiastically tells the woman behind the counter, “I would like a Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal and the Sponge Bob toy please.” “Oh, I’m so sorry”, the young worker replies, “We ran out of the toys about an hour ago.” For a brief moment there is silence in the crowded restaurant, and then like a volcanic eruption, a meltdown ensures then and there and the child become inconsolable. As he becomes increasingly overwhelmed by emotion, the child loses the ability to organize his thoughts and to think rationally. This then causes the frustration to build further and the potential for any logical reasoning plummets.

Beside the wailing youth is the second child who steps to the front of the line and places an identical order. “I would like a Chicken McNuggets and Sponge Bob toy please.” “Oh, I am so sorry honey”, states the employee, “We ran out of those about an hour ago.” Once again, silence as the store braces for a second tornado , but it never arrives. “Well, says the mildly frustrated child. “do you think I could have a note so I could get one later.”

Both children had the same goal in mind, namely to obtain a toy. The first child had a direct route planned to obtain that goal, but when that route was blocked, he possessed no alternative means of achieving his goal. The obstacle, coupled with the lack of alternative solutions, resulted in intense frustration and an ensuing meltdown. As his frustrations increased, he became less able to generate alternative solutions.

The second child was more cognitive in her approach. She thought through the situation and was therefore able to develop an alternative route to her goal, when the first was obstructed. She kept her frustrations in check and was able to developed an alternative strategy, a plan B. Learning how to develop a Plan B (or even a Plan C) is an important factor in learning to become an effective problem solver. Good problems solvers see multiple solutions to a given problem. It is as though they inject cognition into emotion, thereby, tempering their frustrations and becoming more solution focused. Children and adults who are able to think flexibly and consider multiple solutions to problems and more likely to remain in control of their anger.

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