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I had been working with my five year old on emotional intelligence tools for years now. We have read a ton of kids books on feelings. We have a calming corner for her to reference tools to help her shift her moods. I model it for her by narrating what I am doing internally to regulate my emotions. You name it and we have probably done it.
Yet, if there is one emotion she struggles to regulate the most, it is anger.
She is in a primitive reactionary state and literally cannot hear me when she is angry. I tried to focus on just one strategy... deep breaths. But she refused to take deep breaths in the midst of her roaring anger. That is until, I created this story for her.
Her school has a lovely philosophy for teaching kids such things. That is where I learned that stories are a powerful tool to inform self-discipline and values in our children. Why? Because it activates their imagination - the primary inner muscle that they are using in full capacity when they are 3-7 years old. It also helps them hear the messages better because it is not personalized or lectured. It is about someone else... a fictional character in the book. So our little ones can actually hear and see and understand and process every detail without having any defenses up.
So, finally one night in bed, I decided to make up a story about Mr. Potato Head who said and did unkind things when he got angry, until one day...
And to my surprise, my daughter asked me to tell her this story almost every night for a week or two and here is the best part... she did it! She got angry at a friend and she took some deep breaths. I didn't have to tell her anything or do anything. All, I had to do was tell her this story a few times and she internalized it.
So, here it is...
MR. POTATO HEAD
a story about anger, friendship, community, and deep breaths
Click here to listen to the Audio Story on Hatch Brighter
Copyright content by Hatch Brighter
Mr. Potato Head lived in a large green forest, full of friends, hills, meadows and endless colors of nature. One day he was walking across a bridge to get to the other side of the hill when a Big Brown Squirrel accidentally bumped into him.
Mr. Potato Head stopped and his face got super red and he started to breathe really heavily. He did not feel like he could control his body and all of a sudden he saw his leg come up and kick Big Brown Squirrel.
Big Brown Squirrel was bewildered and he exclaimed "Mr. Potato Head, that was not kind."
To which Mr. Potato Head replied "You came in my way."
"You need to think of a different way to act when you are angry," said Big Brown Squirrel as she stomped away.
Well Mr. Potato Head just kept on walking until he finally reached the Orchard he had been craving the apples from. This Orchard was full of flying butterflies and unicorns that loved dancing around the tall apple trees. Mr. Potato Head spotted a bright red apple to eat and as he was just about to jump and reach for the apple, a flying unicorn flew in between the apple and Mr. Potato Head's hand, causing Mr. Potato Head to fall on the ground.
"I am so sorry," said the flying Unicorn.
Mr. Potato Head stopped and his face got super red and he started to breathe really heavily. He did not feel like he could control his words and all of a sudden he yelled at the Unicorn with a very loud voice and told him to never do that again.
The Unicorn's feelings were hurt and he sadly said "You need to think of a different way to talk when you are angry," and he flew away.
Mr. Potato Head grabbed the shiny apple and sat under the tree to enjoy it's deliciousness. As he was chewing the apple, he remembered he was supposed to meet his friends Ms. Strawberry and Ms. Raspberry at the river. He finished his apple and hurried to the river where he found them waiting on a boat. He hopped in and they enjoyed a wonderful boat ride. They were having a funny conversation when all of a sudden they noticed water starting to seep into the boat. There was a hole in the boat and it was starting to overflow.
Mr. Potato Head stopped and his face got super red and he started to breathe really heavily. He did not feel like he could control his thoughts and all of a sudden he shouted at Ms. Strawberry, "You forgot to fix the hole in the boat even though I reminded you five times this week. How could you!" He jumped off the boat and furiously swam away to shore.
When he turned around, he noticed that Ms. Strawberry and Ms. Raspberry had both jumped off the boat and were swimming to the opposite side of the shore angrily.
As he began to walk home, he noticed some uncomfortable feelings deep within.
But then he was distracted by a screaming sound for help. He ran past the river, through the Orchard, over the Hill, across the bridge and into the meadow, where he found a big pond.
"Help! Help!" said a little Fish as a big alligator chased it with it's jaws wide open.
Mr. Potato Head ran to the closest tree and found a huge branch on the floor. He ran back to the fish and extended the branch towards the fish. The fish jumped on the branch and Mr. Potato Head quickly pulled the branch towards him away from the alligator. He then quickly hid behind a bush. Since the alligator couldn't see the fish anymore, it swam away.
Mr. Potato Head came out of the bush and noticed that the fish wasn't speaking and realized she needed to breathe. So he threw the fish into the pond quickly hoping he wasn't too late. Fortunately, the fish jumped out of the water with a big smile and said "Thank You! You saved my life. I cannot breathe air like you can. I can only breath if I am under water. "
Mr. Potato Head shook his head and replied, "No, no. I am the one who is sorry. I am so used to breathing air out here that I forgot you needed to breathe in the water."
They started to chat and quickly became friends. Mr. Potato Head told the fish everything that happened that day and how he lost control of his body, words and thoughts.
The fish listened quietly and then said, "You know what my mom taught me to do whenever I feel super angry? She told me to take deep breaths, under water of course. I didn't believe her but then I tried it the other day when I got mad at my brother and it actually worked. I didn't say or do things I didn't mean after I took some deep breaths. Maybe you can try it too."
Mr. Potato Head thanked the kindly fish for the tip and they made plans to see each other again soon. He was happy to have made a new friend.
When he finally got home and crawled into bed, he remembered that tomorrow was the Forest Festival. This made him feel excited as he started to look forward to the next day.
When he awoke, he quickly got ready so he can be first in line for the popcorn stand at the Forest Festival.
He went outside and saw all his neighbors and friends walking to the Forest Festival. When Big Brown Squirrel saw Mr. Potato Head, she quickly turned around and walked the other way.
Then he saw the flying Unicorn from the Orchard walking along with his family. Mr. Potato Head felt bad for what he did the other day and waved at the Unicorn with a smile, but they did not wave back. The Unicorn's feelings were still hurt.
Off on the corner, he saw Ms. Strawberry and Ms. Raspberry playing some games together. He walked over to see if he could play with them but they said they were still upset with him as they walked away.
He started to feel very sad. He felt as if everyone in the forest was upset with him. He turned to find the popcorn stand and noticed that everyone had already started lining up for the popcorn. So he stood in line and waited his turn for the popcorn.
He waited and waited.
And then he waited and waited some more.
Finally, it was his turn and as he was just about to get his popcorn bag, little Baby Blueberry cut in line and took his popcorn instead.
The whole forest seemed to become quiet all of a sudden and everyone was staring at Mr. Potato Head and Baby Blueberry.
Mr. Potato Head stopped and his face got super red and he started to breathe really heavily. He did not feel like he could control his words or his thoughts or his body.
Baby Blueberry quivered looking up at Mr. Potato Head, afraid of what he was going to do.
To everyone's surprise, Mr. Potato Head started to take a big deep breath.
And then he took another deep breath.
And another one.
And then he said in a very stern yet calm voice, "It was my turn and that is my popcorn."
Baby Blueberry gave Mr. Potato Head his popcorn and everyone gasped in sweet surprise.
Ms. Strawberry and Ms. Raspberry ran over immediately to Mr. Potato Head and asked him to share the story of how he was able to finally control his anger. Mr. Potato Head smiled and started to tell them all about his new friend the fish and the alligator he saved the fish from.
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My Outer-Self: B.S. from USC in Industrial & Systems Engineering, owner of Amna Dance, Co-founder of Hatch Brighter and You Matter Too.