Coping skill toolboxes are handy to have available for when kids have big emotions and need help calming down. Each item is specifically selected to soothe and comfort kids, helping them to de-escalate. The box pictured above is an example of what I put together for the kids I see for counseling. The items I include may vary a little bit based on the age and needs of the child, but many of the items are staples I keep in my office.
There are many ways to build a coping skill toolbox with various ideas of what to put inside. The items you choose will likely be determined by the age of the child, the setting in which it will be used, and the theoretical approach you use as a therapist. The following are many ideas to choose from. Follow the links for additional information from each source.
My favorite boxes to use in my office are these cute little toolboxes from Dollar Tree. Not too bad for $1.25! Lately, I've had to order a box at a time because they keep running out in the stores. I peel off the sticker that comes with it and put on my own sticker that says "My Coping Skill Toolbox" on it. If there are multiple kids in the home I write their names on the box so they can tell who it belongs to.
The creativity of the box design caught my eye on this one. I love the idea of kids being able to personalize their box and allow it to reflect their personality. In the early days, I used clear plastic shoe boxes and had children color them with sharpies.
by Rhythms of Play
Sensory bottles are fun to make and work well for helping children calm down when triggered. As children focus on the calming nature of the bottle, they are able to get their minds off of what triggered them. The fight, flight, or freeze response will start to diminish as they calm down.
by Pathways to Peace Counseling
Playdough can be used in many different ways to help kids with regulation, communication, creative play, and processing emotions. This link will show many ways to use playdough in counseling sessions. It also includes recipes, storage ideas, and printables to go with the playdough. Be sure to download my free PDF handout for parents about the use of playdough for coping.
by By Rochelle Lentini, Lindsay N. Giroux and Mary Louise Hemmeter
I print and include this cute little story for each of my kiddos. It is a good reminder about using the turtle technique to avoid aggression when triggered.
Crayons and a Notebook
Journaling is a healthy habit to develop to regularly process emotions in a healthy manner. Kids can start early by drawing pictures if they are not yet able to write out how they feel. I typically buy small journals from Dollar Tree to include, but you could easily staple together paper to create a little box if you are in a pinch.
There are many types of fidget toys you can include in your box. Shown above is a pop-it bracelet, but you could also use small squishy dolls, fidget spinners, fidget cubes, or many other little items. Some kids like playing with little pom-pom balls to soothe themselves as they work on school papers. Follow the link above for a post all about fidgets with many DIY tutorials.
by Stress for Less
You can include a simple stress ball from the store, or you could make a DIY version. There are many options to choose from. I like this one due to the texture. Water beads are soft and slimy, squishing around inside the ball. The beads offer a contrasting texture to the squishiness of the water beads. These are easy to make but beware! They make a huge mess if they bust open. I had one explode in the school gym once. It was not fun rounding up all the water beads, especially with kids running through trying to grab them up.
I always include a copy of how to play Feelings Candy Land. If they have the game at home, it creates a powerful way to open up communication in the home, helps kids process emotions verbally, and helps families connect in a meaningful way. If they don't have the board game, they can play Feelings Candy World on a computer or tablet.
A Stuffed Animal
A small stuffed animal can provide comfort to a child who feels out of control. You can take this to the next level by applying a drop or two of a calming essential oil like lavender to bring a calming scent.
When emotions run high, the brain turns off. Having coping skills chosen ahead of time can help kids remember what to do to feel better. Index cards are great to use for flashcards. They are cheap and easy to keep on hand. I will usually have kids pick at least 1 activity from 4 different categories:
Exercise: Kids need a way to let out their emotional energy. This could range from squeezing a stress ball to going for a run.
Breathing Exercises - Slow deep breathing is one of the quickest ways to calm the body. There are lots of options here.
A Way to Process Emotion - This could be journaling, talking to a friend, or spending time thinking through self-talk. Kids need to learn how to identify why they feel the way they do and how to feel better. Ignoring emotions is the equivalent of kicking the can down the road.
Distractions - This would include reading a book, playing a game, watching a movie, etc. The purpose is to get the mind off of the trigger long enough to feel calm. Many of the items in the box are available as distractions and to soothe the body.
Based on Dr. Siegel's Hand Model of the Brain, found on Bosmere Junior School website
Understanding the brain is an important aspect of coping. The more kids learn the better equipped they are to recognize body cues and respond more appropriately. This handout provides a concise but informative description of Dr. Siegel's hand model of the brain. I include this printout in all of my boxes to help educate the kids as well as parents.
by The Homsechool Teacher
I found this jewel probably 10 years ago and it has been a hit. I use it for all my kids who struggle with anger. It is quick and easy to fill out with the child and it provides an easy script for putting together a plan of action to manage anger. I usually have the child color the pictures as we discuss triggers, coping mechanisms, support figures, etc. I fill in the blanks for them as we go. They are then able to take it with them to remember their plan of action.
Other helpful items:
A small snack for when kids get hangry.
A favorite book.
A small Lego kit.
A handheld game, such as a little maze or puzzle.