Emotions can be very overwhelming. Anxiety, anger, excitement, worry, embarrassment they can all be difficult to manage even for adults. As adults we learn ways to manage our emotions, although we are not always good at it. We probably have a friend that we call if something goes wrong, make ourselves a cup of tea/coffee if we need to clear our heads, go for a run or do something active if we are angry or anxious. We may not do this consciously but we do have "go to" ways to manage our emotions. Kids need these too but it is important to find what works for them. Putting ideas all together in a "first aid kit" helps children to see that they have options and that they have a choice with how they can manage their emotions.
Making the kit can be as elaborate as you like. I have had clients who have bought beautiful special boxes, or painted shoe boxes. Have fun with it and make something that your child will love. But it really doesn't have to be anything too fancy. When I have made them quickly in my office, I have simply used A4 paper, red texta and staples.
Brainstorm with your child ideas with your child of things that help them feel calm. Try and think of things that are Relaxing, Distracting, Physical and social.
These are activities that help the body and mind calm. I have spoken in a previous blog about controlled breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation and visualizations. These are important to use when your child is beginning to become anxious or angry. When the heart rate is just starting to accelerate and they are becoming agitated. Relaxation actives are great at catching the feeling and stop it from escalating. However if they are already out of control then relaxation activities might not be as effective and you might need to try some more physical activities.
If you see your child becoming anxious or angry you can coach them through what they are feeling. For example, "you look like you are starting to get angry/worried", "your muscles look tight and your face looks..." "lets get something out of your first aid kit to help feel better".
* Controlled breathing (see previous blog), paper boat, pinwheel
* Glitter jar
* Blow bubbles
* Listen to music
* Visualizations, have a photo of a favourite holiday or time. Help them imagine what it looks, tastes, smells, feels and sounds like
* Squeezing play dough
* Write in a diary
There is a place for distraction. I am all for children recognising their emotions and working through them, but sometimes they can get stuck in the emotions and distraction just shifts their thinking. Try to avoid screen time for this. Watching TV or video games can make children more agitated. Distraction activities are fun and completely different to the thing that has triggered the emotion. If possible it is good to change the environment too. This will depend on your child. Some kids would happily play a board game while others would throw the board game across the room. You just need to talk to your child ahead of time and see what they think will work. You might even need to decide this for your child by giving them a job to do. A strategy that can be used in schools when a teacher sees that a child is starting to escalate is to send them to the office to deliver a note. The note can say "please just send ........ back to class". In the same way if you see that your child needs distracting you could ask them to help you with a job, go get the mail etc.
* Play a game
* Look through photo albums
* Write a story
* Make a craft
* Build a fort
If the emotions like Anxiety or Anger have built up where their heart rate has increased, their breathing is fast, their muscles are tight, then relaxation and distraction are probably not going to work well. They will need to do something physical to release the fight/flight response that their body has prepared for. Physical activity will help the muscles and the breathing to use up the the energy and come back to a calm state.
* Kick a ball
* jump on the trampoline
* ride you bike or scooter
* punch a pillow
* run or go for a walk
* Climb a tree
* Go on a swing
We all need to know that we aren't alone. We need to know that other people are there and understand how we feel. It is important to identify with your child ahead of time who they can talk to and get help from. Have ideas for home and at school. Sometimes kids need reminding that they can have help to manage emotions and it it important to ask.
* Ask for help
* Have a hug
* Talk to someone you trust
* visit a friend
Once you have come up with ideas from each category, write them down on paper and have your child draw a visual reminder next to it. Fill your first aid kit with as many ideas as you can. It is important for your child to see that they do have options.
Have the first aid kit somewhere that is easy to get and see. Maybe on the fridge or in their room. If they are feeling like they need help to calm, encourage them to take something out of the kit. They do not have to do the first thing that they pull out. If they pull out jump on the trampoline and it is raining for instance, they can just choose another one. They can keep choosing until they find one that they think will help.
Make sure you praise your child for choosing to do something to help manage their emotions. Even if they do it a bit late. So if they become very angry, yelled etc but then use their kit to calm down, then still praise them. You may at some stage talk to them about trying to catch the emotion a bit earlier, but it is still positive that they have used it.