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The Jenga Effect : Managing Emotions

Updated: Aug 29, 2021

Have you played a game of Jenga? One by one you pull little planks of wood, inevitably coming to a point where the next plank you pull leads to a tumbling tower and pile on the ground.

Sometimes my days feel like that. Little things happen here and there; frustrations, inconveniences, until finally something seemingly small leads to a tumble of my emotions leaving me in a puddle of tears.

Emotional Intelligence is a huge world that's worth exploring. Here's a very VERY simplified version.

The front part of your brain is where all your decisions are made. When something stressful happens, you “shift to the back” and start functioning from the back of your brain which is the part of your brain driven by emotions. So when big emotions like anger, sadness, joy, or fear are occurring, You are making decisions with your “emotion brain” at the driving wheel. All while your “logic brain” that makes good choices is in the backseat clinging on to the seatbelt for dear life. That’s why when you’re angry, anxious, or sad you do and say things that don’t make sense. Your “logic brain” is silenced. (Ever seen Pixar’s Inside Out? This is a great depiction!)

Now the goal, is to be at a place where you can quickly and calmly get to where the ”emotion brain” never gets to the driver’s seat. But this takes lots of maturity and practice.

One of the best ways to strengthen and practice “emotional regulation” is to talk things out. As you talk through things you are keeping your “logic brain” activated.

Here's what I'm teaching my children (and myself) in how to handle "Big Emotions". It's my encouragement to me and you too. 1. Stop. [Stop your body and mouth. A lot of times this means physically sit down.]

2. Speak. [Describe the moment]

3. Solution. [Keep the boundary] Here's the thing- if we manage the small "emotional moments" correctly, we will minimize "tumbles" : aka tantrums, tears or explosions of anger. Our tower and emotional intelligence will be strong and stable. *Side note - Jesus is our strong tower. HE alone is our stability and shelter. But I also believe that part of the mark of a mature believer is having a life where "her ways are pleasant and her paths are peace." (Proverbs 3:17) I don't want my family and friends tip toeing around wondering when I'm going to "fall apart". I want to grow and learn. I want to be a fountain not a drain. I want to add stability and strength to their lives. We are not perfect but this three part game plan is helping both mom and toddler alike. :) Let's see what these looks like with an adult version and then a child version.

Abby : Jenga Day :

Spilled hot tea - block one

Received a triggering email - block two

Oliver screams and wakes up baby - block three and four

Can't find car keys which makes us late for an appointment which shouldn't be a big deal but it is the LAST block that is pulled and leads to a - TUMBLE - in the form of snapping at Ryan and then crying about how I'm a "terrible mom". Now, the better option would be to take care of things one block at a time. We’ll use spilled tea example. 1. Stop. Put the cup slowly down.

2. Speak. I say out loud what I'm feeling, as if I'm a sports commentator explain a play. "This is not the end of the world. You can wash this shirt. Your peace is not found in a quiet cup of tea."

3. Solution. Grab a towel and clean this up. And next time remember holding tea and a basket of laundry won’t work. Oliver : ***Toddler note. Toddlers DO NOT KNOW HOW TO REGULATE EMOTIONS. This is a learned skill and takes so much patience and practice. You MUST be a steady calm anchor for their bouncing bouy emotional world. (Their tower is a bit quicker of a tumble) Oliver finishes the last of his snack but wants more. Mom says no. (That's really all it takes for a tearfest tumble)

1. Stop. [Mom enters in eye level and sits with him. This is the first step. No explaining, no threatening. His brain litteraly can't process anything in this mode. You need to just stop the hitting or throwing or banging and sit down.]

2. Speak. “Oliver what happened?” (Oliver blubbers "Blueberries" through tears. I continue, "Your tears on your face show me that you are sad. Are you upset because you like blueberries and you want to eat more? It's okay to be sad. Mama has to take them away because I don't want your tummy to hurt from too many. It's my job to keep you safe.

3. Solution. Let’s play with trains. Then, if you are still hungry after that we can find something else for our tummy.

I promise, the more you practice this dialogue the easier it gets. It takes time, but before you know it when a “bad day block” gets pulled you’ll be able to handle it and put it back before your tower crumbles.

Praying peace with you; I know this is easier said than done.


*Don‘s forget… the Cirkles are cheering you on.


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This is so good! And thank you for the examples they helped a lot. :)


I totally relate to this Jenga analogy. It’s been me too many times recently and I totally need to incorporate this “Stop, Speak, Solution“ method because in reassuring myself, the situation that has me perturbed is not as big.

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