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The Potting Shed: Thermostat vs. Thermometer

The Potting Shed: Thermostat vs. Thermometer

By Kristy Yetman, Child Therapist and GreenHouse Volunteer

I believe for every kid who is about to lose it, there’s a parent who is about to do the same.  Some days are beautiful and others can feel brutal.  There is nothing certain about a day with a kid except that you are certain to not have certainty!

All parents know those scenes:  

  • You’ve almost successfully made it through the checkout line at Target without a meltdown when your child reaches for one of the chocolate bars.
  • You have spent the past three hours at the playground and, after giving the 5-minute warning, everything seems to be going according to plan and you might just make it back to the car without issue... but because his brother took his last goldfish your tired and dirty toddler is now a tired and dirty toddler who is also having a tantrum. 
  • Your child is teary-eyed while sitting at the kitchen table because he’s not understanding the science project instructions and it’s due tomorrow.  

I’m sure you could add your own stories with your kid, at any day, and any moment.  One of the things I work on with parents is to help them pay attention to themselves during these moments and notice what is happening inside of them.  Is my heart beating fast?  Is my jaw clenched?  Am I using physical force?  Am I raising my voice in that frustrated tone?  Am I starting to blame my spouse for what’s happening?  

One of the most valuable things I have learned from the research of Dr. Gary Landreth, and something I share with parents all the time, is the metaphor of being a thermostat verses a thermometer.  A thermometer reacts to the temperature around it.  When the temperature goes up, the thermometer goes up.  Thermostats on the other hand respond to the temperature around them and when the temperature changes a thermostat responds in a way that is helpful to the situation.  

Yes, it is one of those things that seems easier to say than practice. There are definitely skills to learn and practice.  When we are able to recognize what is happening inside of us, though, we are able to interfere with the tendency to let the emotions of others dictate the emotions in us.  Just because your child’s emotional temperature is rising, doesn’t mean that your's has to.  You can respond in ways that help regulate your child’s emotions. In other words, your child’s feelings are not your feelings.  

What’s one of those skills for staying calm?  The easiest thing to do and the easiest thing to forget to do:  breathe.  In through your nose and out through your mouth.  Once, twice, however long it takes for you to feel in control of yourself.  

With a calm body, you can respond with a calm mind.

There are lots of other things you can do too. During The Potting Shed series in GreenHouse, the When Big Emotions Can Cause Big Problems session will explore some of the reasons why kids escalate into those big emotions and how parents can respond in the ways that are most helpful. With a few new techniques – and maybe some crossed fingers – when your child comes back to the shopping cart with a Kit Kat bar, you can help them regulate their emotions and understand that it’s almost time for dinner.


Our next Potting Shed workshop will be a repeat of the topic When Big Emotions Can Cause Big Problems, taught by Kristy YetmanThis session will be held on Sunday, June 25th, from 9:15-10:45AM. Space is limited to 20 participants and the cost is $15 for GreenHouse volunteers/$20 for non-GreenHouse volunteers.

Read what GreenHouse parents are saying about the first session of When Big Emotions Can Cause Big Problems...

This was worth our time. The content was spot on, interactive, and Kristy provided meaningful practices/nuggets of wisdom. Let's do it again soon.
-Rich Robles, GreenHouse parent of 4

Kristy balanced Q&A and presentation of material really well without getting into too many kid-specific situations. It was perfect. Well done!
-Chris Hartter, GreenHouse parent of 2