Updated: Jun 16
Coping skill flashcards are helpful to help kids remember what to do in the heat of the moment when they need help calming down. When kids are calm, they can easily think through how to respond to various scenarios. However, when the fight, flight, or freeze response is triggered, they are no longer able to think rationally. The cards provide a reminder of what they planned out ahead of time to calm down when needed.
Index cards and markers work well by providing brightly colored cards. I like to draw pictures on the cards to help kids quickly identify what each card says so reading skills are not required. Even kids who read well may not have the patience or ability to sit and read them when triggered.
I encourage kids to choose several different types of self-soothing activities to pick from. What works in one situation may not be suitable for another. For instance, a child may enjoy watching a TV show to calm down at home, but it would not be a viable option for school. Skills that are calming for anger may not be the preferred choice when the child is sad.
There are four main categories I want kids to include when choosing ways to calm down:
Breathing exercises: While usually not the most fun way to calm down, slow deep breathing exercises are usually the fastest way to regain control over the body.
Distraction: When you focus on a trigger it is hard to calm down. Distractions help get the child's mind off of the trigger long enough for the body to turn off the fight, flight, or freeze response and cool off. The range of options is massive, ranging from counting to 10, reading a book, to watching a movie. Sensory bottles, playing with toys or fidgets, or working a puzzle could also help. Visualization is also a powerful tool that could be used anywhere.
Processing the situation: Understanding why the emotions are happening is an important part of coping. This includes evaluating self-talk and assumptions, talking to a friend, or journaling about what happened.
Exercise: Big emotions can lead to pent-up energy in the body. Many kids will act out in aggression to release this energy. Exercise is a better option to release energy in a positive way. It could simply be squeezing a stress ball or a full-blown workout. The goal is to help children recognize when they need to release this pent-up energy without harming others.