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11th Mar 2019

How a jar and some glitter can help when your tween or teen is having a meltdown

Pretty clever.

Anna O'Rourke

“Let’s settle your glitter.”

Comforting a small child when they’re upset can often be as simple as distracting them with a toy or a treat.

Dealing with a distraught teen is rarely that simple – but we’ve just come across a clever technique to help them calm down.

It’s as simple as this – keep a sealed jar filled with water and some glitter.

When your teenager comes to you in a fit of anger or tears, rather than diving into talking about it, shake up the jar and set it down in front of them, telling them to watch as the pieces of glitter swirl and settle.

Writing in the New York Times, psychologist Lisa Damour explained that the jar represents the teenage brain when it’s distressed.

The adolescent brain is constantly being rewired and the parts of the brain “that give us our ability to reason and maintain perspective… may not reach full maturity until age 25.”

This means that when a teenager becomes upset their brain can struggle to rationally handle it, resulting in a meltdown.

Effectively, this crashes “the entire system until it has a chance to reset,” according to Damour.

Explaining to an upset teen that the jar is a model of what’s going on inside them and having them watch the glitter settle gives them a chance to calm down.

Letting them understand that their emotions come and go in waves and surges “sends adolescents the reassuring message that they aren’t broken; in fact, they’re self-correcting.”

“This is not to say that letting glitter settle is the solution to all teenage problems,” Damour continues.

“But I have found it to be a better first response than any other.

“Every time I stop myself from trying to figure out what made a teenager upset, and focus instead on her right to just be upset, I find that doing so either solves the problem or helps clear the path to dealing with it.

“So, when you next encounter a young person in full meltdown, take a deep breath and think to yourself… ‘First… let’s settle your glitter’.”