Sarah (my website partner) and I work organically. As play therapists, we set goals and intentions but we will always follow the child’s lead when an issue comes up. The same is true of our blog. We set a plan of what we are going to write about for the month, but if something comes up we will change course and write about that. It is interesting to me that of our last five posts three focus on emotional self-regulation or dealing with anxiety.
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Developing Emotional Self-Regulation
Whether it is helping children conquer their fears or phobias, getting picky eaters to try new food, or developing problem-solving skills, it seems to us that people are looking for ways to help their children develop emotional self-regulation.
Transitions Are Difficult for Some Children
This post is a response to a problem presented to me by the teacher of one of my clients with high functioning autism. He is doing very well at his school but after a recent break he had problems regulating his emotions and was melting down. After speaking with my young friend, his teacher, and his mother, it became obvious that he was having a difficult time dealing with transitions.
He used to have huge reactions to the smallest transitions. With a lot of help, he has become much more emotionally stable. There are fewer tantrums, less resistance to new situations and he is far more flexible than he used to be. Now it is time to give him some tools to help him when he is feeling out of control.
Finding Solutions and Developing Emotional Control
I asked my young friend if he had any solutions for his problem with transitioning from vacation to being back at school. The only solution he would offer was to do absolutely nothing the day before school resumed and to take it easy the first week back at school. This is not a viable solution. I cannot wave a magic wand and promise that solution can be put in place. Life happens, his family will want to go out on the day before school resumes, his teacher will expect him to meet the demands of school. Our compromise was to help him deal with the stress he was feeling by making a calm down kit for older kids.
Our Children Need to Learn to Self-Soothe
So yesterday I brought a variety of items and ideas that could help soothe the anxious child and let him make a calm down kit for himself and one for his teacher to use in her classroom. The idea is that when a child gets upset they take the kit and choose an item or two that will help them calm down and begin to develop emotional self-regulation. It is important for our kids to learn to choose the best way to self-soothe rather than us dictating what they should do. Some day they will be responsible for all their emotional responses.
Making a Calm Down Kit for Older Kids
Items you can include in your calm down kit:
- Stress Ball: You can make your own by filling Balloons with rice, flour, corn starch, etc. An easy way to fill them is to put the filling in a bottle, blow up the balloon and attach the balloon to the bottle top, turn over and fill the balloon.
- Bottle of Water with a Straw: drinking water really does help so many things.
- Calm down Yoga Poses: Childhood 101 has an awesome printable poster that we used in our kit. If it would be disruptive to do these yoga poses in a school setting you can try finger yoga (Mudras).
- Lavender Sachets: Lavender Essential Oil is known to be calming.
- Coloring Pages: We made some mini-mandala coloring pages so they wouldn’t take too long to color, just enough time to calm down.
- Sensory Brush: In this case, the Therapy Sensory Brush is used by the child on their hands. (It does feel good!)
- iPod shuffle: I didn’t include this in mine because I am not going to buy an iPod for every child I work with but I would provide one for my own child. Music has great power to soothe and elevate moods.
- Unscented Lotion: I know many children who find it soothing to rub lotion on their hands.
- Something that we did not include in our kit because of food allergies is crackers or fruit sweetened hard candy. Chewing or sucking on candy can be soothing for some children. You may want to consider adding those to your kit.
- A Large Storage Bag to put all your items in.
- A list of other options my young friend thought we should include
How to use your calm down kit to develop emotional self-regulation
As soon as the child starts to get anxious or upset direct them to get the calm down kit, find a quiet spot and choose one item to use. After they have used that item are they calmer? If they still need more time to collect themselves they can choose another item to use. Once they have calmed down, find a time when they are ready to talk and listen and ask them if they think it helped. If not, what else might they choose? In order to develop emotional self-control, we all have to figure out what works best for us.
Here are some ideas on using games to develop behavioral control in a classroom setting. Move with Me has 3 Mind-Body Activities Kids Can Use to Self-Regulate When Stressed or Emotional. There are many ways that we can help our children learn this important skill. The trick is to find the best ones for your child.