How ‘Hey Duggee’ Can Help You Talk to Your Child About Emotions
Dr Georgina Batten Embrace Psychology
As a Child Clinical Psychologist and a parent, I am on an interesting journey where two worlds intertwine, collide and can sometimes complement one another. It can be unhelpful, but sometimes the worlds support one another. I would like to share some of those helpful times, to support other parents of small humans!
My little one adores the CBeebies show, Hey Duggee. Each short episode takes you on an adventure with the ‘Squirrel Club’ and their scout leader, a lovable dog of few words but many Woofs, Duggee. At the end of each episode the little Squirrels gain a badge for learning a new skill or embarking on a new experience. Amongst its various attributes, I have found it a great platform for parents to think about emotions and positive mental health with their pre-schoolers. There are some lovely episodes like the ‘Teamwork Badge’ and the ‘Getting On Badge’ which look at social skills, alongside the ‘Get Well Soon Badge’ and the ‘Looking After Badge’ which really encourage toddlers to be nurturing and caring of one another. However, my favourite so far is the ‘Brave Banana Badge’.
The Brave Banana Badge
This episode revolves around the Squirrels being afraid of a thunderstorm, with Duggee trying to help them manage and overcome their fear, as thunder and lightning rumbles and crashes around them. This badge is jam-packed full of good messages, for both parents and children, on how to face your fears.
Right at the outset, we learn that even Duggee was afraid of something when he was younger. This is a great way to normalise fears and is something I’d highly recommend parents to open up about. If children know that it’s ok to be scared sometimes, and that even their mummy and daddy have been scared before, it’ll help them to talk to you about their own worries.
Model Healthy Coping Strategies
Duggee then shares with the Squirrels his strategy for feeling less scared, demonstrating that he conquered his own fear. Have a think about what you do as mums and dads to manage and cope with your fears and worries. Modelling ‘coping strategies’ that parents and other important adults have used is really helpful. It also shows that it is possible to face your fears and feel less scared over time.
How Anxiety affects your Body
The episode then touches on how anxiety affects your body. One of the Squirrels says, “I feel shaky Duggee!” Anxiety has a big effect on our bodies. When we notice this change (like feeling shaky, tense, having a faster heart rate and breathing more quickly) this can increase the fear. Those experiencing this, and sometimes those witnessing it, often think they are ill or in danger and consequently, they panic. It’s helpful for parents to talk about how emotions affect us physically, pointing out how our bodies change and react to different emotions. This is a great way of normalising feelings of fear for children. It’s also really important for parents to know that while these bodily changes are really hard to witness as parents, your little ones are not in any physical danger.
Duggee’s way of facing his fear was to distract himself by refocusing his attention on something that made him feel happy. This is a great strategy to encourage your children to try. It could be a happy memory, thinking about a hobby they love, something they’re looking forward to or anything which puts them in a more positive place. Each Squirrel had a go at thinking about something more positive. Some of the Squirrels chose to create a safe, happy place, while others imagined themselves as powerful and benevolent super heroes. If you watch the episode with your child, try to highlight what each of the characters is doing to help them through the thunderstorm. Have a chat with your little one about what they could think about when they’re feeling worried. Younger children will need a lot of support to keep thoughts and ideas in mind. Having something physical for them to look at, like a photo of a happy time together or a small object that reminds them of something comforting, would certainly help. If they’re still struggling, it might well help to have some funny family memories up your sleeve to talk to them about when they’re feeling scared.
Thoughts affect Feelings
Toward the end of the episode, the Squirrels notice they don’t feel scared anymore, even though there’s still a thunderstorm outside. This really highlights the effect our thoughts have on our feelings. If your children are slightly older, talk to them about this, and explore together how their thoughts could help them feel better in the future.
The episode finishes with the Squirrels earning their ‘Brave Banana Badge’, as well as some tasty banana muffins. The use of rewards when children face their fears is really important. It’s crucial that rewards are something your child would value, something you could realistically do soon after they have faced a fear. Aim for the reward to be more socially based rather than material or financial (don’t let it break the bank!) Some of the best rewards are extra quality time with a parent or friend.
Talking about Feelings
Something that the Brave Banana Badge really encourages is talking about feelings. This is such an important thing to do with children and the earlier the better! It might seem daunting, but there are ways to make it fun – these don’t need to be serious sit-down chats! Using words to identify different feelings, such as happy, sad, scared, excited and angry is really helpful from an early age. Have a go at playing ‘guess the feeling’; change your facial expression to show different feelings. Get your little one to have a go too! Talking about how characters are feeling in stories and cartoons is a really good idea. As your little one’s language develops, it’s helpful to share the clues which showed you why a character is feeling a certain way (e.g. the situation, what they have said, the way they have said it, their facial expression, their behaviour). When watching the Brave Banana Badge with your child, you could say, “Oh gosh! Norrie is scared by that thunderstorm. She said “eeek!”, her smile turned down and she ran to Duggee for help. Wow she’s shaking and closing her eyes now, she must be really scared.” This could be a good time to ask your little one if they’ve been scared like that and share with them one of your own experiences. Keep it child-friendly!
Having regular conversations about feelings with your child can really help them to develop a better understanding of their own emotions as well as those of others. This is so important for developing their own emotional wellbeing. I’ll certainly be using the Brave Banana Badge with my little one to help those conversations along!