Posted in Emotion Regulation

Get Grounded! A Strategy for Regulating Emotions

One grounding technique (to assist those dealing with overwhelming emotions) is to list 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel/touch, 3 things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

I use this myself when I am trying to stay in control of my emotions and think it could be a great strategy for children.  To help kiddos remember to use the strategy and how to do it, I created a sign that can be printed (get the pdf here.)

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Posted in Emotion Regulation, Parenting

Five Things I Do for Self-Care

To prove that I practice what I preach (that caregivers should engage in regular self-care), I thought I’d share what I do to help me manage the stress and anxiety of adulthood/parenthood.

1. Exercise – this is the most important one for me. I can tell a HUGE difference in my mood if I don’t exercise 2-3 times per week. When it was nice outside I would jog or walk with the baby and dog. Now that it’s cold, it’s more difficult to get in, but I try to get on the elliptical or treadmill a few times per week.

2. Read – when I’m not SUPER tired (so maybe 3-4 times per week), I try to read before bed. Earlier this week I finished Dan Brown’s new book, Origins.

3. Get out of the house – I get real bad cabin fever if I don’t leave the house every few days. Yes, it can be a pain to get the baby out, but I get pretty grumpy if I don’t get out and make an extra trip to target or hobby lobby, or just walk around the mall.

4. Play games on my iPad – this is going to sound soooo childish and I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I’m hooked on Cooking Fever and it’s one of the first things I do after the baby goes to bed. It just helps me disconnect from the stress of the day.

5. Play the piano – full disclosure: I don’t get to do this as much as I want to. Every time I start playing the piano, the baby crawls over and wants to bang on the keys. I’m happy to let her do that, but I cannot play and hold her in my lap at the same time!

My challenge for EVERYONE is to do at least one thing each day that is for you only and makes you feel happy, calm, and/or less stressed. If you make it a priority, you’ll see positive results!

Posted in Emotion Regulation

A Crash Course on Body Signals: What They Are and How to Use Them

When I have a kiddo struggling with emotion regulation, one of the first things I do is teach them about body signals.  This isn’t knowledge that people are born with and EVERYONE (yes, adults as well!) can benefit from understanding what body signals are, how to identify them, and how to use them to help with overwhelming emotions.

 

What are Body Signals?  

Body signals are the physiological symptoms that happen because someone is feeling a certain way.  Basically, it’s your body’s automatic response to emotions. People can differ on what body signals they experience – so my body signals for angry feelings might be different than someone else’s. Also, some people may experience the same body signal for different (and opposite!) feelings.

 

Identifying Body Signals

Most people aren’t really aware of their body signals until they start thinking about them.  Think back to the last time you were extremely happy/mad/sad/worried… do you remember feeling certain sensations in your body?  A lot of times just THINKING about something that makes you feel a certain way can elicit some of these body signals.  Common body signals for happy feelings include heart beating quickly, can’t sit still, and smiling.  Some others I’ve heard from kids include “ants in pants,” singing, crying, and “want to run!”  Common body signals for sad feelings include crying, slow movements, slumped shoulders, and talking in a quiet voice.  Common body signals for angry feelings include clenched fists, red or hot face, yelling and heart beating quickly.  Some others I have heard are “want to hit,” “want to kick,” sweating, growling/groaning, and stomping feet.  Common body signals for worried/scared feelings include butterflies in stomach, heart beating quickly and loudly, and shaking.

 

How Is This Information Useful?

Once you are aware of your body signals for certain emotions, you can have a better awareness of when you need to do something to calm down.  It’s called a Body SIGNAL for a reason – it’s a signal that you’re becoming overwhelmed with an emotion and need to use a calming/coping strategy to help you calm down and regulate those emotions.  It takes practice though, especially for kiddos!  If you see your kiddo clenching their fists or crying or with slumped shoulders, it might be time for a hug and to prompt them to do something that will help them feel better!

Posted in Emotion Identification, Emotion Regulation

Inside Out Feelings and Calming Strategies Worksheets

love using Inside Out when working with kids on emotion identification and emotion regulation.  It’s a fun movie and kids generally have a positive response when they see any of the characters from Inside Out, which mean the activity usually goes rather well.

I have created this worksheet to help kids identify how they’re feeling, how their body might be feeling, and some calming strategies they can use to help calm down.  This is similar to the Inside Out Feelings Book that I posted, but this worksheet is all on one piece of paper… and the reason for that is that I thought it would be nice to print this worksheet out and put it somewhere in the home (on the fridge, maybe?) as a visual prompt from kiddos.

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Download it here: Inside Out Feelings and Calming Strategies Worksheet

What I would do is sit down and help your kiddo fill in the blanks on the worksheet – for each of the four emotions (joy, anger, fear, sadness) there are 3 lines to write in body signals (how their body feels when they feel that emotion) and 3 lines to write an appropriate calming strategy.  Some of the body signals and calming strategies might overlap, but it would probably be beneficial to make sure there’s some variety!

Once it’s all filled out, put it somewhere your kiddo can see it.  Then, when you notice your child getting upset, prompt them to go find their Inside Out Feelings Worksheet, identify how they feel (help them, if needed due to age or development), then identify a calming strategy to use to calm down.

Posted in Emotion Regulation

Push-Pull-Dangle for Emotional Regulation

An amazing kiddo that I work with taught me a new calming strategy that can be used at while sitting in a chair.  I love this idea for two BIG reasons.  First, it can be done at school without being disruptive.  Second, it can be done discreetly – I have worked with lots of kids who don’t want people to see/know that they’re trying to calm down.

So the strategy is called “push-pull-dangle” and there are 3 steps.

  1. Put your hands on the top of your chair seat and push as hard as you can.  Depending on how long your arms are and how strong you are, your bottom might come off the seat.
  2. Put your fingertips on the underside of your chair and pull, so that you’re pulling your bottom/body into your chair seat.
  3. Let your arms dangle loosely at your side.

This seems to be a form of a muscle tension/relaxation calming strategy – you tense your muscles by pushing and pulling, then relax them by letting them dangle.

Give it a try yourself, and maybe teach it to your kiddo to give them another tool to use to help them stay calm when overwhelmed with negative emotions!

Posted in Emotion Regulation, Uncategorized

Treasure Hunt Bottles for Emotion Regulation

When you have an upset kiddo, distractions are your best friend!  It’s pretty hard to think about being upset, and why you’re upset, when engaged in a fun activity.  Treasure Hunt bottles (sometimes called I-Spy bottles) are a great distraction for your little one, and can distract them long enough to help them calm down.  Some people (ME!!) aren’t great at DIY projects, but these are fairly simple to make and can be made without spending a lot of money.

The other great thing about making it yourself is that your child can be involved and make the treasure hunt bottle according to their own personal tastes, which will make it more appealing when they are upset and in need of a change to regulate.  Here’s a blog I found with fun instructions on how to make these sensory bottles: http://blog.intellidance.ca/blog/1-16-2013/diy-sensory-i-spy-bottles-kids.

The above blog has instructions for using rice (rainbow rice – how fun!), but I’ve seen these made with sand as well.  Have fun!

Posted in Emotion Regulation

Tracing While Deep Breathing

There are so many deep breathing exercises you can do with kiddos.  What works with some might not work with others, so it can be beneficial to provide a kiddo with multiple options so that they can find one that works for them.

The deep breaths are important, but assigning another task while taking deep breaths can also help get the child’s mind off whatever it is they are angry (and possibly ruminating) about.  I’ve shared about TAKE 5 Breathing, but here’s another idea with tracing.

The idea is to have children trace basic geometric shapes, like a triangle, rectangle, or square, while they take deep breaths.  This helps get them fully engaged with the deep breathing and can make it more effective.  Here’s some examples of how to use a square and a star (note with the star, you’d have to trace it twice to get full breaths).

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I usually have kiddos practice a few times with an actual shape in front of them, then have them trace it on a table without a template.  They can also trace it in the air, on their leg, on the wall, etc.

A few times:

  • Practice makes perfect!
  • Remind kiddos to SLOW down – it’s not a race!
Posted in Emotion Regulation

Superhero Powers and Anxiety/Fear

Fears are common and normal in children (as long as they don’t interfere with functioning).  Check out this chart of common fears by age, originally posted on https://www.anxioustoddlers.com/worries-by-age/.

 

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The activity I’m about to describe can be used with children when the fear is considered “typical” and doesn’t interfere with normal life.  However, it can be helpful for children whose fear is more severe and is causing substantial problems at home or school, or when it’s considered a phobia or anxiety.

Most kids love superheroes, though in my experience boys are usually more interested than girls.  Most kids I have worked with see superheroes as invincible and not afraid of anything ever.  So it’s perfect to engage kiddos in thinking about how superheroes are not afraid of anything and to pretend they are superheroes in order to help them face their fears.  I even give kiddos a template of a cape and shield (on paper) and have them design their own cape and shield.

Kids will still need age-appropriate coping strategies to help them deal with anxiety, but thinking about superheroes can help them be brave when being exposed to what they are afraid of.

I had one boy who was terrified of ALL bugs and it was a struggle for him to spend even a few minutes outside at recess without having a meltdown.  When I talked to him about his favorite superhero (Superman!) and asked if that superhero would be afraid of ants, he actually giggled and said “no.”  He was able to make a cape and shield drawing, then put them up in his locker, so that when he went to put his shoes on to go outside for recess, it was a reminder for him to be brave (like Superman) when he saw bugs.

Posted in Emotion Regulation

Calm Down Jars for Emotional Regulation: How to Make Them, Where to Buy Them, and How to Use Them

Calm down jars are a great resource for therapists, teachers, and parents – for a lot of children, calm down jars really help with emotional regulation.  It can also be a lot of fun to make these with children, as they then have some control over the content and color of the calm down jar.  There are a lot of different websites offering instructions on how to make them.  Some are fairly simple, while others are complex and have multiple different sizes of glitter.  I’ve listed just a few:

 

If you are like me and really DIY-challenged, you can also buy a calm down jar.  I bought this one off Amazon (look here) and it’s terrific – the kids like it, it’s visually appealing, and it’s sturdy.  You can also search for different colors; I got purple.

When your kiddo gets upset, you could just plop this down in front of them and tell them to watch it.  Or… you could use it as a teaching moment with a great metaphor.  You can shake up the bottle and explain that when we feel upset, our insides might feel like the shaken-up bottle.  We might feel like we have no control and that we’re about to explode!  However, it’s possible to calm down!!  Once kids understand this metaphor, I instruct them to watch the insides of the bottle settle or calm down and imagine that the same thing is happening inside of their bodies.  This makes using a calm down jar more than just a visual distraction (though I will admit that the visual distraction helps too!).

Posted in Emotion Regulation, Parenting

What to Say to Your Anxious Child

Thinking about how kiddos experience emotions just as strongly as adults do helps me to have more empathy when I see a child struggling to handle anxiety or any other negative emotion.  It’s important to support that child and also guide them on how to cope with what they’re experiencing.  I found this awesome list of 49 things caregivers can say to calm kiddos down when they are feeling anxious PsychCentral (here).  Here’s the list below, copied from their website…

 

1. “Can you draw it?”

Drawing, painting or doodling about an anxiety provides kids with an outlet for their feelings when they can’t use their words.

2.  “I love you. You are safe.”

Being told that you will be kept safe by the person you love the most is a powerful affirmation. Remember, anxiety makes your children feel as if their minds and bodys are in danger. Repeating they are safe can soothe the nervous system.

3. “Let’s pretend we’re blowing up a giant balloon. We’ll take a deep breath and blow it up to the count of 5.”

If you tell a child to take a deep breath in the middle of a panic attack, chances are you’ll hear, “I CAN’T!” Instead, make it a game. Pretend to blow up a balloon, making funny noises in the process. Taking three deep breaths and blowing them out will actually reverse the stress response in the body and may even get you a few giggles in the process.

4. “I will say something and I want you to say it exactly as I do: ‘I can do this.’” Do this 10 times at variable volume.

Marathon runners use this trick all of the time to get past “the wall.”

5. “Why do you think that is?”

This is especially helpful for older kids who can better articulate the “Why” in what they are feeling.

6. “What will happen next?”

If your children are anxious about an event, help them think through the event and identify what will come after it. Anxiety causes myopic vision, which makes life after the event seem to disappear.

7. “We are an unstoppable team.”

Separation is a powerful anxiety trigger for young children. Reassure them that you will work together, even if they can’t see you.

8. Have a battle cry: “I am a warrior!”; “I am unstoppable!”; or “Look out World, here I come!”

There is a reason why movies show people yelling before they go into battle. The physical act of yelling replaces fear with endorphins. It can also be fun.

9. “If how you feel was a monster, what would it look like?”

Giving anxiety a characterization means you take a confusing feeling and make it concrete and palpable. Once kids have a worry character, they can talk to their worry.

10. “I can’t wait until _____.”

Excitement about a future moment is contagious.

Free Ebook: 72 Phrases to Calm an Anxious Child

11.  “Let’s put your worry on the shelf while we _____ (listen to your favorite song, run around the block, read this story). Then we’ll pick it back up again.”

Those who are anxiety-prone often feel as though they have to carry their anxiety until whatever they are anxious about is over. This is especially difficult when your children are anxious about something they cannot change in the future. Setting it aside to do something fun can help put their worries into perspective.

12.  “This feeling will pass. Let’s get comfortable until it does.”

The act of getting comfortable calms the mind as well as the body. Weightier blankets have even been shown to reduce anxiety by increasing mild physical stimuli.

13. “Let’s learn more about it.”

Let your children explore their fears by asking as many questions as they need. After all, knowledge is power.

14. “Let’s count _____.”

This distraction technique requires no advance preparation. Counting the number of people wearing boots, the number of watches, the number of kids, or the number of hats in the room requires observation and thought, both of which detract from the anxiety your child is feeling.

15. “I need you to tell me when 2 minutes have gone by.”

Time is a powerful tool when children are anxious. By watching a clock or a watch for movement, a child has a focus point other than what is happening.

16. “Close your eyes. Picture this…”

Visualization is a powerful technique used to ease pain and anxiety. Guide your child through imagining a safe, warm, happy place where they feel comfortable. If they are listening intently, the physical symptoms of anxiety will dissipate.

17. “I get scared/nervous/anxious sometimes too. It’s no fun.”

Empathy wins in many, many situations. It may even strike up a conversation with your older child about how you overcame anxiety.

18. “Let’s pull out our calm-down checklist.”

Anxiety can hijack the logical brain; carry a checklist with coping skills your child has practiced. When the need presents itself, operate off of this checklist.

19. “You are not alone in how you feel.”

Pointing out all of the people who may share their fears and anxieties helps your child understand that overcoming anxiety is universal.

20. “Tell me the worst thing that could possibly happen.”

Once you’ve imagined the worst possible outcome of the worry, talk about the likelihood of that worst possible situation happening. Next, ask your child about the best possible outcome. Finally, ask them about the most likely outcome. The goal of this exercise is to help a child think more accurately during their anxious experience.

21. “Worrying is helpful, sometimes.”

This seems completely counter-intuitive to tell a child that is already anxious, but pointing out why anxiety is helpful reassures your children that there isn’t something wrong with them.

Free Ebook: 72 Phrases to Calm an Anxious Child

22. “What does your thought bubble say?”

If your children read comics, they are familiar with thought bubbles and how they move the story along. By talking about their thoughts as third-party observers, they can gain perspective on them.

23. “Let’s find some evidence.”

Collecting evidence to support or refute your child’s reasons for anxiety helps your children see if their worries are based on fact.

24. “Let’s have a debate.”

Older children especially love this exercise because they have permission to debate their parent. Have a point, counter-point style debate about the reasons for their anxiety. You may learn a lot about their reasoning in the process.

25. “What is the first piece we need to worry about?”

Anxiety often makes mountains out of molehills. One of the most important strategies for overcoming anxiety is to break the mountain back down into manageable chunks. In doing this, we realize the entire experience isn’t causing anxiety, just one or two parts.

26. “Let’s list all of the people you love.”

Anais Nin is credited with the quote, “Anxiety is love’s greatest killer.” If that statement is true, then love is anxiety’s greatest killer as well. By recalling all of the people that your child loves and why, love will replace anxiety.

27. “Remember when…”

Competence breeds confidence. Confidence quells anxiety. Helping your children recall a time when they overcame anxiety gives them feelings of competence and thereby confidence in their abilities.

28. “I am proud of you already.”

Knowing you are pleased with their efforts, regardless of the outcome, alleviates the need to do something perfectly – a source of stress for a lot of kids.

29. “We’re going for a walk.”

Exercise relieves anxiety for up to several hours as it burns excess energy, loosens tense muscles and boosts mood. If your children can’t take a walk right now, have them run in place, bounce on a yoga ball, jump rope or stretch.

30. “Let’s watch your thought pass by.”

Ask your children to pretend the anxious thought is a train that has stopped at the station above their head. In a few minutes, like all trains, the thought will move on to its next destination.

31. “I’m taking a deep breath.”

Model a calming strategy and encourage your child to mirror you. If your children allow you, hold them to your chest so they can feel your rhythmic breathing and regulate theirs.

32. “How can I help?”

Let your children guide the situation and tell you what calming strategy or tool they prefer in this situation.

33. “This feeling will pass.”

Often, children will feel like their anxiety is never-ending. Instead of shutting down, avoiding, or squashing the worry, remind them that relief is on the way.

Free Ebook: 72 Phrases to Calm an Anxious Child

34. “Let’s squeeze this stress ball together.”

When your children direct their anxiety to a stress ball, they feel emotional relief. Buy a ball, keep a handful of play dough nearby or make your own homemade stress ball by filling a balloon with flour or rice.

35. “I see Widdle is worried again. Let’s teach Widdle not to worry.”

Create a character to represent the worry, such as Widdle the Worrier. Tell your child that Widdle is worried and you need to teach him some coping skills.

36. “I know this is hard.”

Acknowledge that the situation is difficult. Your validation shows your children that you respect them.

37. “I have your smell buddy right here.”

A smell buddy, fragrance necklace or diffuser can calm anxiety, especially when you fill it with lavender, sage, chamomile, sandalwood or jasmine.

38. “Tell me about it.”

Without interrupting, listen to your children talk about what’s bothering them. Talking it out can give your children time to process their thoughts and come up with a solution that works for them.

39. “You are so brave!”

Affirm your children’s ability to handle the situation, and you empower them to succeed this time.

40. “Which calming strategy do you want to use right now?”

Because each anxious situation is different, give your children the opportunity to choose the calming strategy they want to use.

41. “We’ll get through this together.”

Supporting your children with your presence and commitment can empower them to persevere until the scary situation is over.

42. “What else do you know about (scary thing)?”

When your children face a consistent anxiety, research it when they are calm. Read books about the scary thing and learn as much as possible about it. When the anxiety surfaces again, ask your children to recall what they’ve learned. This step removes power from the scary thing and empowers your child.

43. “Let’s go to your happy place.”

Visualization is an effective tool against anxiety. When your children are calm, practice this calming strategy until they are able to use it successfully during anxious moments.

44. “What do you need from me?”

Ask your children to tell you what they need. It could be a hug, space or a solution.

45. “If you gave your­­ feeling a color, what would it be?”

Asking another person to identify what they’re feeling in the midst of anxiety is nearly impossible. But asking your children to give how they feel with a color, gives them a chance to think about how they feel relative to something simple. Follow up by asking why their feeling is that color.

46. “Let me hold you.”

Give your children a front hug, a hug from behind, or let them sit on your lap. The physical contact provides a chance for your child to relax and feel safe.

47. “Remember when you made it through XYZ?”

Reminding your child of a past success will encourage them to persevere in this situation.

48. “Help me move this wall.”

Hard work, like pushing on a wall, relieves tension and emotions. Resistance bands also work.

49. “Let’s write a new story.”

Your children have written a story in their mind about how the future is going to turn out. This future makes them feel anxious. Accept their story and then ask them to come up with a few more plot lines where the story’s ending is different.