By Livy Traczyk
Spring is an inherently frustrating time of year for Midwesterners. Winter is believed to be over; warm weather is promised to be on the way. What this newly returned Minnesotan forgot, however, was just how temperamental the transitional season really is. I found that April, with its inconsistent bouts of sunshine mixed with wintery storm warnings, was making me very, very frustrated.
It seemed only appropriate to deal with this climate of frustration in a concrete way—by making kites.
I came to this idea after reading Zach Gets Frustrated to the students I tutor after school. The book deals with a character, Zach, who quits his kite-flying endeavors after too many failed attempts.
The book outlines three tangible ways of dealing with the mounting anger and rage that comes with feeling out of control. In the end, after following this three-step approach, Zach overcomes his initial feelings of failure long enough to watch his kite fly high above himself and his family at the beach.
The helpful tips Zach’s dad provides (Name It, Tame It, Reframe It), fit perfectly in the upper corners of the kites I cut from construction paper. I knew that by creating the visual of Zach’s triangular solution, my students would be better able to work through their frustrations in the same way Zach had, by writing them down. (Oh how I wished I could’ve truly replicated Zach’s approach with my students by drawing in the warm, white sand.)
The story drew in my students immediately, due largely to the rawness of Zach’s expressions. In the beginning, he spouts off several negative thoughts about the day, his kite, himself, and his friends. I watched as my students, all of whom deal with the very real situations that arise from living in transitional housing, relate to Zach calling the kite “stupid” and kicking sand to get someone, anyone, to notice his anger.
My kids understood Zach’s feelings. They know what it’s like to feel out of control. But then, what child doesn’t? This is the hard part about growing up, which is why having stories like this one really helps children develop into emotionally competent adults.
We shared our personal frustrations, which ranged from being annoyed by siblings to not seeing mom enough because she works long hours. My personal favorite came from the newest member of the after-school program. This boy, who rarely lacks confidence, looked truly discouraged by the fact that his Mohawk never seems to grow.
I had the group write down their frustrations on the top point of their kites. Then on the adjacent angles, we followed steps two and three: taming it (what makes you feel better?) and reframing it (how can we look at this in a different light?). The boy who missed his mom shared that he tames his frustration by running at the nearby park, and when I asked him how he could reframe his thinking like Zach did, he simply said, “I love my mommy,” which was good enough for me.
After our frustration kites were completed, I reframed my own grumpy attitude by moving the lesson outside for a spontaneous kite-flying session. It just so happened to be fifty degrees, and as I watched the paper diamonds attached to yarn trail behind the screaming children who were coatless for the first time in nearly six months, I felt my own tension release from my shoulders.
I yelled as loudly as I could: “On your marks . . . Get set . . . Go! Release your frustration!”
Half a dozen brightly colored kites swarmed above our heads for a split second, long enough to suspend our disbelief about the laws of gravity. Then, I braced myself for what I was sure would come next—disgruntled comments about the “fake” kites not really flying. But, to my surprise, no one complained.
Instead, my students ended the lesson better than I had planned: They moved on. So, I did, too. We dodged muddy pockets of rainwater on the field as we ran toward the swings, leaving our dampened kites behind for another day.
How do you help your students work through their frustrations? What sort of visuals do you provide, like Zach’s dad, to help kids take control of their emotions? Please comment, I’d love to hear what works for you!
Livy Traczyk is an author, an illustrator, and a literacy tutor residing in Minneapolis, MN. She holds a bachelor of arts in English literature and creative writing from St. Norbert College. She has published two children’s books with AppleTree Early Learning Institute, where she also taught preK to at-risk youth. Livy is currently collaborating with a social worker to create a series of multicultural books based on difficult home life issues, with the goal of providing language, understanding, imagery, and comfort to kids who are often unseen in children’s literature.
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