Emotional Toolboxes

We all face challenges in life, and children are no exception. As adults, we probably have a variety of tools in our toolbox, some healthy and some less healthy. When I was younger, my own toolbox was dominated by less healthy strategies. I have slowly, and with a fair few ups and downs along the way, learned to create a toolbox that serves me well. My hope is that if we help children to create their own toolboxes earlier on in life, this might enable them to manage their emotional life and mental health in more constructive ways, from a much younger age.

The strategies that follow might be handy for meltdowns, conflicts, or just generally feeling not ok. There is a mix of proactive strategies with benefits that build up over time, and reactive strategies for using in the moment 🤍

1. Affirmations are a great way to build self-worth, and ground ourselves when we are struggling. They are just as helpful for children as they are for adults. Try teaching your child a few key affirmations or using cards as a prompt.

2. Use emotion cards to learn about feelings, and to use as a tool to communicate about feelings when it’s tricky. If it’s too hard to find the words, children can pick the card that best shows how they are feeling.

3. Once they know a little about emotions, identify a safe word with your child that they can say when they need help but can’t find the words. If this is too hard, they could have a set of red, amber and green cards to use – red means “I’m really not ok and need help”, green means “I’m all good”, and amber means “I’m feeling a bit wobbly”.

4. Try asking your child if they would like to draw or paint how they’re feeling. They can explain it to you afterwards if they want to, but avoid quizzing them about what they’ve drawn. It’s important it’s about their own expression of how they are feeling, not answering our questions.

5. Practice breathing, relaxation and yoga activities. These might not be right for every situation. But, they are a really useful part of the emotional toolbox. The key is to practice them regularly so the benefits build up over time – and eventually children will turn to them when needed.

6. A child in the midst of an angry meltdown probably won’t be able to remember to breathe deeply. This takers time and practice. A child who wants to hit or kick needs a different strategy – at least initially – because breathing just won’t cut it in that moment…sometimes, something more physical is needed. Children might need to have running, jumping or even shouting and throwing in their toolbox. If your child needs to hit, kick or throw, give them the chance to be physical and let that out in the moment, but in an appropriate way. In time, you can teach more calming tools, but initially they need something that will actually work to replace their need to lash out.

7. Integrate mindfulness into every day life. Again, this isn’t so much a tool for in the moment initially. It’s more about remembering to practice mindful ways in daily life so that over time this supports children’s brains and their emotional responses.