Updated: Jan 10
Leaves are turning, the weather is cooling, and we’re looking forward to friends and family gatherings for the holidays.
I don’t know about you, but my imagination about this season can take on a whimsical and nostalgic expectation… and then reality sets in. Falling leaves need to be raked, cold weather means salting and shoveling driveways or just being cold, and friends and family… well, they’re still the humans we both love and get annoyed by.
Our kids are no different.
In these upcoming months, we may need our Toolkits more than ever! Kids will be home more on school breaks, routines and schedules are disrupted, and as excited as we might be about green bean casserole, Christmas markets, and tree-hunting… well, they might handle it differently than we imagined.
Cue the next three tools in the Mission: Control! Toolkit!
If you’re new to my little corner of the internet, read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 to catch up on what we’ve been doing with this simple, easy-to-use, effective tool for helping kids (ahem, and adults) navigate their Big Feelings.
How to Use the Mission: Control! Toolkit
If you read the previous three posts, then you understand how I use the Mission: Control! Toolkit in my practice.
While it’s so easy to lecture our kids on how they should be feeling or behaving, this doesn’t actually activate the part of their brain we’re trying to reach to incite change. In fact, it’s the opposite part of the brain! We have to approach Big Feelings with Big Intentions. This means maintaining our own calm when our kids have lost theirs, speaking to the right part of their brain (using methods like the Mission: Control! Toolkit), and listening before correcting. This is hard when our feelings are big, too!
The Mission: Control! Toolkit gives kids a form of communicating when they’ve lost access to their helpful words. It lets them decide how they will work to restore calm to their mind and body. This also redirects your child from their Big Feelings to one of play. Yep, this drives blood flow and oxygen to the part of the brain we want to engage.
When something feels “too much” for your kiddo, reach for your toolkit and let your child choose just the right tool for managing those Big Feelings. If your child gets stuck choosing a tool, you can offer some suggestions, being careful to present possibilities and not force your idea of the best tool for them. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how your child’s creativity and inner guidance will give meaning to the tools they need at that moment (and beyond).
Now, onto what you’ve been waiting for…
The Next Three Tools
Be sure to grab the free pdf at the end with images and descriptions of each tool!
My toolkit has a bouncy ball. Bounce it!
Kids can “bounce back” from disappointment. Have them bounce the ball and imagine themselves being stronger and more flexible than their problem.
Kids can squeeze the ball to feel how flexible and strong it is, just like their brain! Ask them to use their flexible, strong brain to try again or come up with a new idea for solving their problem.
Sometimes Big Feelings feel out of control like a bouncy ball on the loose. Kids can bounce the ball in a contained space, then chase it down and capture it. They can imagine chasing down their Big Feelings and capturing them as well, restoring control, as they chase the bouncy ball.
There are many ways bouncy balls can support a child, both in the middle of Big Feelings and in preparation for future Big Feelings. Ask your kiddo how they might envision using a bouncy ball when their feelings seem “too big.” Kids are great at coming up with original ideas!
My toolkit also has a pad of sticky notes. Yep, this simple and inexpensive notepad creates all sorts of opportunities to support a kiddo in need of some calm.
Kids can use the sticky notes to write a word or thought that they’re fixated on. I often start with the word “can’t” and ask them to write it across the sticky note. Then, taking scissors, the child cuts off the “t,” leaving them with “can.” What other negative or uncomfortable thoughts can be cut up and replaced with a thought that feels better?
Kids can use the sticky notes to draw faces that express their Big Feelings. They can then pretend that face is a friend who needs some calming words. What would they say to that friend to help them feel better?
Kids can use sticky notes to write or draw an encouraging message or thought to themselves. Have them place the sticky notes around the house, room, classroom, or office space to remind them of positive messages every time they see the stickies.
Don’t miss the opportunity to ask your child how they might envision using the sticky notes when their feelings seem “too big.” There is no end to the possibilities!
My toolkit also has a small clickable counter. A counter has a variety of uses in supporting your child.
Kids can use the counter to help them move from shallow breathing to deep breathing. Ask them to see how many deep breaths help restore their calm. Have them click for each breath they take until they begin to feel better.
Kids can use the counter to click out a rhythm. Ask them to play a “song” or try to click to a consistent beat. Together, look at how many clicks were involved in their song.
Kids can use the counter to slow down their response time to problems they’re facing. They can pause, click the counter to 10 (or whatever number they’d like), then choose how they’d like to respond to the problem.
Just like with every tool, ask your child how they might use the counter to help them navigate challenges and Big Feelings. You get to bring your curiosity and openness while they create meaning and utility with these tools!
How to Build Your Own Mission: Control! Toolkit
It’s so simple!
The point of the toolkit isn’t to have expensive or high-end items, it’s to provide access to creative ideas that might become solutions. You can even print and laminate images of the tools if that’s what you’ve got! I found many of my tools in local discount stores and online wholesale stores. You can use any container to hold the tools–choose whatever is accessible and supportive for you and the kiddos you’re assisting. The main thing is that kids understand that each item is a hearty weapon for overcoming life obstacles!
I invite you to introduce play and imagination into your child’s bank of resources through a toolkit. This is what activates the part of their brain we want to engage to restore calm, regulation, and control. A regulated child is a secure, confident, happy child. These tools will help them (and you) learn how to live regulated more often.
The examples listed above are just that: examples. They are a starting point. Add your own items and let your kids discover their own unique use for each tool. We get to build an arsenal of good in times of Big Feelings.
When you start your own Mission: Control! Toolkit for your home, classroom, or office, I’d love to see pictures! If you send me a picture with your toolkit, with your permission, I’ll share it on my social media and in my newsletter to celebrate our community-building resilience in kiddos together.
You are wonderful and I see it. You’re here because you care about the kids in your life and want to help them as much as possible. Our world needs adults like you!
Thank you for being intentional, insightful, and willing to try new things for the good of the kids around us.