Sitting at traffic lights a few days ago, I remembered a seven-year-old called Adam whose rage I had helped to manage by associating his feelings with colours. We’re conditioned early on to build associations in this way. For example, even as I type this article, my mistakes are underlined in red – and teachers mark mistakes in red, too. We even talk about “seeing red” when we get angry or frustrated. Then there’s that traffic light stopping us. From early on, we learn to associate that particular colour with being stopped and with frustration.
I often use a traffic light analogy when working with children to help them think about their thoughts, feelings and subsequent behaviour. Here are some ways we think about it.
Red- stop, stuck or danger.
Green- start, go ahead, calm, nature.
Orange/Amber – state of flow with time for choices.
Adam would get stuck in a tantrum for around 45 minutes and not know how to get out of it. Together, we explored new ways to handle his behaviour through the traffic light analogy.