Teaching Emotional Literacy Using the Turtle Technique
Be the turtle. Normally as a parent I wouldn’t want to encourage my child to go into his shell. I would be encouraging him to reach out, engage with the world, and actively participate with those around him. But the concept of the “turtle technique” is one that I have employed and have seen great results. This technique for anger management and emotional awareness has been around for years and is part of a cognitive behavior intervention strategy that encourages kids to recognize their emotions – especially those uncomfortable ones like frustration and anger.
What is the Turtle Technique?
The turtle technique is a simplistic way to teach children how to manage their strong emotions that often lead to impulse control problems. Children who might express anger or frustration by yelling, stomping, kicking, or saying unkind things in reaction to their emotions can be taught the turtle technique as a way to slow down their reactions and increase their awareness. This behavior management strategy involves 4 basic steps.
- Something happens to make the child angry or frustrated. Tell him that emotion is OK, and it is time to think like a turtle when that happens.
- He needs to stop whatever he is doing and keep his body and voice to himself (no yelling, hitting, kicking, or lashing out).
- Encourage the child to go into his shell and take 3 deep breaths.
- The child then needs to think of a solution, or a positive way to react to the situation. The turtle (the child), can come out of his shell when he thinks he has a good solution.
Why Does the Turtle Technique Work for Emotional Awareness?
I’m sure you’ve heard it – a parent telling his or her child to just calm down. When our kids are upset that is exactly what we want, hope, and need they can do in order to gain perspective, but it is not really giving them the tools to actually do it.
The turtle technique
- Gives children a tangible example they recognize – the turtle.
- Helps them visualize a calm scene (turtles tend to be slow and deliberate – something we want our kids to be when they are upset).
- Can be reinforced with kid-friendly stories and graphics for visual learners.
- Reinforces to kids that their emotions are real and OK, but that it is important to react in kind and safe ways, searching for solutions to situations that upset them.
- Helps teach emotional intelligence – a lifelong skill we all need.
How Can I Teach the Turtle Technique?
There are great resources available for teaching the turtle technique to your kids. The important thing to remember is not to emphasize your child hiding away from the world when he gets upset, but to use his shell as his quiet place to think and come up with a solution.
- Begin by talking about emotions – anger, frustration, etc. – but do it at a time when your child is already calm.
- Introduce the concept of the turtle technique by talking about how turtles go into their shells when they are unsure of things and it gives them time to react to things around them.
- Share with your kids a story such as this one, created by Rochelle Lentini.
- When you see your child become upset and demonstrate impulse control issues (yelling, hitting, lashing out at others), remind him to be the turtle.
- Acknowledge your children’s efforts to be the turtle and develop solutions that might help ease their frustrations. You could even get turtle stickers and use them on a behavior management chart, where each time your child successfully uses the turtle technique he or she receives a sticker.
Teaching Emotional Literacy using The Turtle Technique
Helping our children develop emotional literacy (often referred to as emotional intelligence or EI) is not always easy, especially in the fits of childhood frustrations. Tools like the turtle technique can help teach children not only to recognize their emotions, but how to turn that energy into a positive solution. While the technique won’t likely work all of the time with all children, it is an easy, free, and positive way to engage your kids in the lifelong process of emotional literacy. Slow and steady wins the race.