With so much going on around the world right now, it’s not unusual that the news are rattling up emotions for everyone at home. We as adults, have (hopefully) found a series of mechanisms to help us calm down and self-regulate. But, for many children, the story is different.
Whether it’s the global politics climate or actual climate changes that may cause your child to feel anxious. It’s important that parents empathize and recognize these feelings. But, even more crucial, is that parents teach their kids how to calm down during these stressful events.
Children, especially younger ones, don’t have the resources to identify, manage and express their emotions accurately. When they perceive danger, their brains sends a message to their bodies they must prepare. The danger may come from stress between the parents or an actual avent, such as thunderstorms or loss of electricity. This provokes what we know as choosing one of the 3F’s: fight, flight or freeze.
Play has the flexibility that any toy – or any material – can serve the purpose of the person who is using it. You can use play as an educational tool, a recreative one and even a regulating resource.
Here are some of my favorite toys to use when children need to regulate:
Cozy Stuffed Animals
This isn’t your typical stuffed animal. The ¨therapy wrap¨ has two features which make this a unique toy: you can heat it up and it unravels the most soothing lavender or eucalyptus scent. It’s especially practical for children who are anxious because of its sensory quality.
When your child is going through an anxious or stressful moment, you can place this toy on their lap or around their neck. Its sensory attributes (warmth, soft texture and soothing smell) are qualities that help towards emotional regulation.
You can tell your child to snuggle up with the wrap while you actively voice empathetic message such as: ¨I understand you’re feeling very anxious right now because of this event¨ or ¨Mom/Dad are here to help you feel more calm and keep you safe¨. When we put together our verbal and non-verbal strategies, we can better help the child self-regulate.
The mechanic of worry eaters is straightforward: the child writes or draws what’s worrying her/him, folds it and puts it inside the worry eater pouch. This serves a dual purpose: it helps the child exteriorize their feelings through writing or drawing and gives the parent an insight of what exactly is making the child feel this way.
Sometimes children, especially anxious children, are afraid of voicing their worries aloud. They think that it will become true. For example, it might scare them to say ¨I’m worried that the thunderstorm will hit inside the house, causing an accident for my siblings or parents¨, because they think that by expressing it openly the event will definitely happen.
This is why writing or drawing their worries and literally putting them elsewhere is so powerful. It helps the child share a burden which might otherwise remain within herself/himself.
While kinetic sand is essentially made up of beach sand, its therapeutic power is slightly different. It’s a type of sand that ¨feels like wet sand, but leaves your hands completely dry¨. Similar to play-doh, you can manipulate this sand and build it up in whichever way you’d like.
Its texture is kinesthetically satisfying for anyone playing with it, but particularly for children. It helps to shift their attention away from the event that is causing her/him stress. Instead, they can focus on the feeling of manipulating the sand. It’s a therapeutic experience on its own, helping develop their mindfulness abilities.
Recognizing and labeling your child’s feelings is important to help them become self-aware of their emotions. Teaching them how to manage their emotions is equally important. It’s essential for them to learn that they can’t control what they feel. However, they can do things to help ease those strong emotions, such as fear and anxiety.