One of the tools of the “let’s teach social-emotional skills to children” movement is the glitter jar. The idea behind the glitter jar is that when a child is frustrated, they shake up the glitter jar (think: snow globe) and as they watch the glitter settle, they are supposed to settle their emotions down as well. Proponents of the glitter jar (who range from teachers and school counselors to child psychologists and parent coaches) claim that it helps kids “learn” to regulate their emotions.

(While I do love glitter) I am not a proponent of the glitter jar. As I described in this post, emotional balance comes from the ability to hold opposing emotions (mixed feelings). This ability is a function of growth, maturity and frontal lobe development, not “learning”; attempts to shortcut the path of true development by telling kids to “calm down” (which is what the glitter jar represents) will not lead to maturity, but will lead to more frustration.

Frustration, the emotion which is usually present when we are telling kids to “calm down”, can come from so many sources: a sibling that the child wishes they could send back, not being able to balance on the two-wheeled bicycle, wanting more of Daddy’s attention; life can be endlessly frustrating for children!

The key to moving through frustration, to moving along the path of development, is for frustration to come out; not for it to calm down.¬†Dr. Gordon Neufeld, from whose paradigm I work, likens frustration to elimination: it needs to come out; we would never tell our child to “hold it in,” when they had to use the bathroom, likewise, we should not be telling them to “hold it in” when they are frustrated. Frustration holds potential energy; it needs to be discharged or it continues to hold energy that will need to come out in one way or another (think: bigger tantrum later if this one is “glitter jarred,” or, if the stakes seem too high for it to come out as a tantrum, it can turn inwards and cause all sorts of other issues).

So, get rid of the glitter jar and remember that your role, as parent (or teacher), is to come alongside your frustrated child (or student) and help them get the frustration out.

Ways to do this include:

  • Saying, “I can see you are frustrated, let me help you get that out.”
  • Directing the child towards “acceptable” ways of getting frustration out, such as: punching bags, tearing paper, hitting pillows, jumping on bubble wrap etc.
  • Not getting too worked up about the fact that frustration will come out in more “unacceptable” ways sometimes: bad language, hitting a sibling, kicking the wall etc. This is to be expected on the long and messy road of development (a ho hum attitude about this is a good thing to cultivate).
  • Not waiting until frustration is erupting to help your child get it out; daily activities (pillow fights, water balloon play etc.) that promote expression are good pressure-release valves.

Using words (or jars) that give our children the message to “calm down” when frustrated throws virtual sand (glitter?) in the gears of development; helping our children to express their frustration oils the gears of development so that¬†nature’s plan can unfold, in all it’s sparkly brilliance.