A note from Marie: When I first wrote this post it was aimed at helping children. With the way the year has been going, I firmly believe that an emotional toolkit is something that any of us could benefit from! In 2020 our collective resilience has truly been tested. As I write this note I am wearing comfy clothes, my essential oil diffuser is on the go (rose is my favourite scent!) and I am renewing my spirit by focusing on the tips below. If, as you read this blog post it sounds too overwhelming, pick one idea that appeals to you and give it a try. It might just bring you comfort.
What is an emotional toolkit?
An emotional toolkit allows children (and adults!) to select various personal belongings to help deal with personal challenges that they may face. It contains a set of concrete tools (often related to the five senses) that help them to regulate how they are feeling.
Benefits of an emotional toolkit
Using an emotional toolkit helps children to recognise that when they are feeling anxious, stressed or overwhelmed, there are tools that they can turn to that can help them to feel calmer and more relaxed. Through regular practice, they will begin to recognise the coping skills that help them to feel centred. A toolbox can also help to foster resilience by helping children to recognise that these coping strategies can help them to overcome life’s obstacles. The greater the range of tools at their disposal the better equipped the child is to handle their feelings. The toolkit also helps children to develop the awareness of the supportive practices that are available to them and helps them to develop a sense of self-efficacy. Over time, children can learn to recognise when feelings of overwhelm are building up and use the tools before those emotions escalate. One of the best ways to introduce the concept to children is to model using one yourself!
What to include in an emotional toolkit
The contents of an emotional toolkit will vary depending on the age of the child and their personal preferences. It’s important to create a sense of ownership by consulting the child about what they would like to include. Typically the contents feature a range of items that appeal to the five senses. The toolkit itself could be a shoebox or storage bin that the child decorates to their taste. In a school setting, teachers often create a whole class toolkit, but due to current health and safety concerns, it may be best to stick to individual boxes. Children usually enjoy decorating their boxes to suit their personal tastes.
Here are some suggestions to spark inspiration:
An item that evokes feelings of pride, e.g. a certificate of achievement, a medal, etc.
Audio device and headphones
Bottle of water
A worry stone
Fabric with a spritz of a favourite scent
Mindfulness colouring pages
Mandala colouring pages
Zen doodling sheets
Sensory chew sticks
A favourite book
A toy/teddy bear
A worry monster
Crosswords, word searches, sudoku, jigsaws
A head massager
Cards featuring deep breathing exercises
Growth mindset posters
How to introduce the concept of the emotional toolbox to a child
Firstly, it’s important to talk about the range of feelings and emotions we all experience as this helps children to develop their self-awareness and emotional vocabulary. It can also be a good idea to discuss the physical sensations related to a particular feeling, e.g. it can be common to have sweaty palms or butterflies in our tummy when we feel anxious.
Next, you can introduce the importance of having tools to help us cope when we are feeling worried or overwhelmed. You can model the process for the child by talking about the tools you use to help you when you feel stressed, e.g. taking a few deep breaths. You could also explain that the toolkit can be helpful even when we are feeling happy and relaxed because it can help us to maintain that positive frame of mind. This highlights that looking after our mental and emotional wellbeing is just as important as taking care of our physical health. Discuss the objects that bring you comfort, e.g. a cosy jumper and elicit from the child which items remind them of positive and happy times in their lives.
- Consider dedicating 5 minutes each day to the toolkit initially so that the child develops a consistent habit of engaging with the contents. (This tip also applies to the grownups!).
- Remember to store the toolbox in a place that is easily accessible to the child.
We would like to say a massive thank you to our course participants, who contributed so many lovely ideas to help us to curate the lists of suggested items featured in this post. We hope you found this post helpful and we would love it if you would share it with a friend so that anyone who could do with a little lift today can benefit from these coping skills.
Marie O'Sullivan, Anokha Learning
Marie O’Sullivan is an experienced teacher and counsellor with an M.Sc. in Child and Adolescent Counselling.