An important step in your wellness journey is recognizing when you may be feeling unwell (not just physically) and knowing what to do to get back into wellness. Even if we are constantly practicing healthy habits, we’ll most certainly have moments of feeling down in mind, body, or spirit. As adults, we often have a variety of strategies or tools we know we can use when we’re feeling down. But sometimes we forget.
When feeling overwhelmed or stressed it is easy to forget the different skills or tools you have to help alleviate stress. For kids, when they feel overwhelmed, they can quickly become dysregulated.
What is dysregulation? We define dysregulation as an emotional reaction that is stronger than our ability to manage it in the moment. When dysregulated, it is very difficult to regulate and think about strategies that help us regulate.
What does dysregulation look like? Often times dysregulation causes increased heart rate, erratic breathing, and disorganized thinking. For adults, this may feel like overwhelming anxiety or anger that causes us to react in ways we normally wouldn't. Same with kids, they might scream, become violent, or withdraw. Sometimes a dysregulated child can make adults feel overwhelmed, so we respond by yelling or asking too many questions. Try to maintain a calm and neutral tone. Remind them you are there for support. Remember, dysregulation is bigger than our ability to manage in the moment, it may be difficult for a child to identify what they need or why they're dysregulated.
Dysregulation is inevitable.
So, especially for kids, making a chest of tools that contains a variety of calming strategies for moments of dysregulation, sadness, or in times when they just want a break is extremely helpful. The most effective method of teaching dysregulation to children is modeling. We can't teach a child how to regulate if we aren't able to regulate ourselves. It's important for us to name our emotions then model a strategy to help us calm down. Help them learn to name their dysregulation. For example, "I'm feeling angry about (blank), so I need to take a break to get calm again."
This blog post contains a list of different items we made at The Kiva Center for our Treasure Chest for Emotional Regulation. These tools are fun to use and even more fun to make! Get your kids or students involved in the creative process, show them how to use it, and they will be more likely to use the tools in the future.
1. Exercise Dice
Do you have an exercise routine that’s boring, redundant, or nonexistent? Traditional stretching or exercising can be boring, especially for kids, so it’s important to come up with different ideas to make it fun! One way you can incorporate some variety is by making exercise dice.
Exercise dice are just like regular dice with a little twist. You can make as many dice as you need to suit your needs. But, you need at least 2 to make it work. One dice will have 6 different numbers of your choosing, these numbers will represent seconds or reps for an exercise so choose wisely. The 2nd dice can include exercises, stretches, or yoga poses.
Look at this pdf for the materials needed and instructions. Happy Exercising!
You can also check out this video for a quick tutorial on how to make oversize cardboard dice.
2. Stress Balls
Ever feel super stressed and notice tension in your body? Squeezing a stress ball is an immediate way to release tension from your body; they provide instant relief but are not a long-term solution for alleviating stress. Tension is reduced when you squeeze a stress ball because it provides a place for you to put stressed/anxious energy instead of holding it in your body. Challenge yourselves to close your eyes, imagine what the stress looks like, and watch it leave your body as you squeeze the stress ball. Stress balls can also help strengthen muscles in your hands and wrists! Check out this link for other health benefits of stress balls.
Below you will find the materials and instructions we used to make stress balls for our treasure chest.
For an extra challenge, check out this video that teaches you how to make 6 different kinds of stress balls.
3. Sensory Jars
A sensory jar is a bottle filled with water and glitter or different tiny items that you can watch fall as you turn it. Sensory jars are like the new and improved lava lamps. They’re meant to ease your mind as you watch the tiny objects fall while tipping the jar back and forth. Ask the children to make it with you, and if you can, give them options of what to put inside. These jars are especially helpful in moments of sensory overload. They provide children with a calming object to focus on to alleviate overstimulation. You can read about more benefits of sensory jars here.
Do you have babies or toddlers? Sensory jars stimulate many types of learning for children in these stages of development as outlined in this article.
Here is a video with instructions on how to make 6 different types of sensory jars.
4. Affirmation Rocks
Do you use positive affirmations? Positive affirmations are powerful and kind statements that are meant to challenge unhelpful thoughts that can impact your overall wellness. Psychologist Catherine Moore reviews the science behind positive affirmations in this article. We can use these affirmations for ourselves and to help build up others.
To get our students more interested in positive affirmations we asked them to paint their words, phrases, or even pictures on rocks. All you need is some rocks, paint, and lots of love. Our students loved this simple activity! Need inspiration? Here's a list of common affirmations.
Check out this fun experiment where kids used positive affirmations with their plants to track the effects words have on growth. Humans aren’t the only ones who benefit from kind words.
Your treasure chest can also hold things you don't make:
A small or weighted blanket
Add cards or something that lists strategies that aren't tangible (we made potion balls with ideas written in sharpie).
Go on a walk or a hike
Talk to a friend or family member
Take a break
Practice deep breathing
Use tapping techniques like the ones found in this book by Alex Ortner
Get creative! There are four main types of learners: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic so different tools may work for some and not others. You can add so many different things to your own treasure chest that suits the kids in your home, classroom, etc. Include items and activities that you know the children will use and enjoy. Add a mix of things they have used before while also introducing new tools and strategies. Remember, it's imperative that you include the children in the selection and creation of these items and activities.