Mad Isn't Bad: Mastering Emotions with Hammerhead (from an auntie's perspective!)

An auntie and her four-year-old nephew share their experiences in learning how to calm down and resolve conflict.

By: Caroline Kurdej

This blog post was originally published on LinkedIn by Caroline Kurdej who authors Grow with Goonie, a newsletter dedicated to hands-on engagement and joyful learning for kids, from an Auntie's loving perspective.

My four-year-old nephew, Robert, is full of spirit. He's bright and hilarious, with an infectious laugh. He's also a firecracker. We're never sure what next move could make him upset. He has yet to master identifying and sharing his emotions.

This past Sunday, we were playing in the backyard when his two older sisters started jumping sky-high on the trampoline. "It's my turn!" Robbie hollered.

Violet May factually outlined, step-by-step, what happened. Robbie had his turn already. We waited patiently until we started jumping to make up a dance to "I Knew You Were Trouble!" (The choreography was indeed spectacular).

Robbie wailed.

"Did you bring the thing?" My sister whispered to me.

I nodded and retreated as I distanced us from the trampoline crime scene.

"Robbie, can I show you something?" I pulled out a brown, super secret UPS package I stowed away earlier.

"What do you think is inside, bud?" I asked him.

"Is it a toy?" he asked excitedly.

"I brought one just for you!"

A few days prior, I texted my sister, Aleksandra Harris. I let her know about Slumberkins, an emotional learning brand makes the cutest educational plush toys. Not only are they cute; they also come bundled with books to help teach social-emotional skills and address different emotions like gratitude, change, authenticity, grief...

I think this might help Robbie with his conflict resolution. We both agreed.

A Hammerhead Snuggler magically emerged, accompanied by two books.

"I love books!" Robbie said excitedly. We started reading Recess Challenge, a captivating story about two friends, Hammerhead and Narwhal, who swim into a tussle when Narwhal shows zero interest in sharing the swing set.

"Hey! I didn't want to share trampoline time either!" Robbie said.

I asked my little four-year-old nephew what Hammerhead could do differently when his friend wasn't sharing.

Here's what we brainstormed together to calm down when a friend isn't listening or fails to validate your feelings.

5 Ways to Calm Down and Resolve Conflict (as shared by a four-year-old):

  1. Take really deep, deep breaths. 🧘🏼♀️ "Like this!" (Close your eyes, join your middle finger and thumb together, and exhale with a loud oooooohhhhmmmmmm sound. Be careful if grandpa is around, he will act goofy and conduct the communal exhale off-key, causing everyone to keel over from laughter.)
  2. "Hug Hammerhead!" 🦈 Sometimes, all you need is a hug or a Snuggler to feel grounded and safe in the midst of frustration and anger.
  3. "Make choo choo train sounds!" (Possibly a breathing tactic? Possibly sharing our love of trains with everyone else and incorporating them where we can.)
  4. Trace your pointer finger around the fingers of an adult's hand. 😮💨Inhale as you move up one of their fingers, and exhale as you travel your way down. Focus on the breath and movement pattern. Wait until you calm down before you make any rash decisions and upset your friend--who still isn't sharing.
  5. "Tell mommy or daddy." 🎤 Share your concerns with a trusted adult when "they still not listening to me!" and when you feel like your voice isn't heard.

I asked Robbie how we could apply the lessons from Hammerhead & Narwhal arguing over play time on the swing set to sharing the trampoline in his own backyard with his two older sisters.

"I guess I can play with my shark while I give them a turn to bounce," Robbie said. 

In that moment, I realized how impactful tools like Slumberkins can be in helping children understand and navigate their emotions. Kids have big feelings, and social-emotional learning brands recognize that by providing resources to make learning about emotions approachable and fun.

By teaching Robbie conflict resolution through Hammerhead’s story, I was able to turn a potential meltdown into a valuable learning experience. ❤️

Slumberkins also emphasizes the importance of affirmations in child development. The plush toy and book set comes with affirmations to reinforce positive self-talk and build confidence. For Robbie, hearing Hammerhead’s affirmations like "I can stay calm and use my words" made a big difference in how he approached sharing and resolving the trampoline conflict.

Through Grow with Goonie, I hope to share more stories and resources like these to empower kids to be caring, confident, and resilient. Let's make learning an adventure together, one story at a time. 📚

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