Cue the drumroll, please…
It’s time! As promised in my blog post in April, I now present to you the next three tools in the Mission: Control! Toolkit.
I created the toolkit to use in my own pediatric occupational therapy practice with my clients. I found the visuals, positioned as tools, empowered kids to make good choices, improve self-regulation, and offer aids through which to externalize internal battles with Big Feelings.
I created an actual toolbox full of goodies, each one representing an opportunity for children
to equip themselves to overcome overwhelming emotions. I found that children developed autonomy and resilience as a result of what are otherwise cheap, silly items. It’s less what they are and more what they represent.
When I saw how effective the tools were, in combination with my book, Mission: Control! A Big Feelings Adventure!, I couldn’t keep them to myself.
Today (and over the next few articles) I’m going to reveal the next three in the Mission: Control! Toolkit.
How to Use the Mission: Control! Toolkit
Kids get lectures all the time. Which, from a neuroscience perspective, is the least effective way of affecting change. Yet it seems to be the adult default for passing on important information to our kiddos, especially when we feel out of control. In a moment of Big Feelings, rather than trying to reason your child’s feelings into something manageable, you can pull out your toolkit and let your child choose which one they’d like to utilize.
Using the Mission: Control! Toolkit gives your child agency in deciding how they will work to restore calm to their mind and body. This also distracts your child from their original focus (an unwanted change in plans) to one of play. The toolkit allows your child to engage his or her imagination, moving away from the “rational” brain we tend to reason with to interacting with the sensory part of their brain instead! This is a powerful way to help kids calm their Big Feelings. (Don’t be fooled! It’s a powerful way to calm our brains, too!)
So, in those moments 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. Help your child, if needed, decide which tool will help them feel most in control of themselves. Let your child’s creativity shine by allowing them to ascribe meaning to the tools as it fits them best!
The Next Three Mission: Control Tools
My toolkit has a container of bubbles. There are multiple ways this little bubble-maker
can support your child.
Kids can blow bubbles to calm their racing minds or anxious thoughts. Watching bubbles grow, release, and float is a calming and grounding experience.
Kids can use the blowing of bubbles to take deep breaths. This relaxes the nervous system and communicates safety to the body, slowing blood flow and the release of stress hormones.
Kids can blow bubbles to distract themselves from upsetting thoughts to something exciting and fun! Adults can also blow bubbles to draw attention away from the child’s Big Feelings and towards the novelty and enjoyment of bubbles. It seems there is no age in which bubbles aren’t a bit enthralling and pleasantly distracting.
Ask your kiddo how they might envision using the bubbles when their feelings seem “too big.” You might be surprised by how their imagination will create solutions from something as simple as bubbles.
My toolkit also has a light switch. There are multiple ways a child can use the light switch to restore calm to their body.
Kids can use the light switch just like Joseph and Gretchen did in Mission: Control! A Big Feelings Adventure! to switch on their W.I.L.L. Power. Using their imagination, your child can flip the switch and feel the power to make a good decision coursing through their body.
Kids can use the light switch to turn off any ideas that are steering them away from a good choice. You can also talk about messages or feelings that they don’t like and let them flip the switch off.
Kids can use the light switch to give “yes” and “no” answers in a creative trivia game. While we like to avoid yes/no questions in some settings, using them here can be a creative way to engage in conversation, reinforce important messages, and give kids a kinesthetic way of embodying their desires for themselves. Ease into deeper questions with fun, silly ones first. Examples of questions might be:
“Do you like pizza?”
“Do you want willpower like Joseph’s Robojo?”
“Do you like when your Big Feelings feel out of control?”
“Do you want to learn how to share your calm?”
“Do you like feeling in control?”
As always, let your child suggest ways the light switch might represent a skill to help them manage their Big Feelings. I’d love to know what they come up with!
“No HypnoZoids” Sticker:
In my book, Mission: Control! A Big Feelings Adventure!, HypnoZoids represent the obstacles to Joseph’s peace and calm. In the story, Joseph wants to watch TV but it’s time for bed. His feelings get big fast. Using his imagination, Joseph goes to battle against the HypnoZoids who seek to keep him out of control. After reading the book with your kiddo, show them a printed (and laminated?) picture of the HypnoZoids.
Kids can use the HypnoZoid sticker to do battle with their own “HypnoZoids.” Let them put a big X on the picture, crossing them out and representing a No Thank You to anything that wants to keep them from peace and calm.
Kids can also use the HypnoZoid sticker to make a large sign that says, “No HypnoZoids.” This is a playful way of keeping them out (like a “no girls/boys allowed sign) but also offers a visual representation when the Big Feelings come.
Kids can also use the HypnoZoid sticker as target practice! Print out a larger image, hang it up somewhere safely, and let them shoot a nerf gun, cotton balls, or paper airplanes at the picture as a way of “going to battle” with the HypnoZoids. This gives kids a sense of empowerment and a playful way of later envisioning their real-life attack on the HypnoZoids in a time of Big Feelings.
Allow your child to add to the possible ways of using the Hypnozoid Sticker. Feel free to print the HypnoZoid sticker below.
Building Your Own Mission: Control! Toolkit
In Mission: Control! A Big Feelings Adventure! Joseph was so focused on his disappointment about turning off the TV that he didn’t see the HypnoZoids coming. With his imagination, he was able to use W.I.L.L. Power to solve the problem.
We have an opportunity to help kids catch the HypnoZoids long before they arrive. What if Joseph had a toolkit like this one to pull from in his time of need? Could bubbles have distracted the HypnoZoids from their devious ways? Would target practice with a poster of their faces helped him recognize them sooner? Fortunately, he did have a light switch on his gauntlet, another tool I offer to help support kids through their Big Feelings.
You have an opportunity to introduce this kind of play and imagination into your child’s arsenal of resources. This builds resilience into their developing systems. With time, they won’t need the actual toolkit to remind them of the resources available to them, they’ll just remember.
You can purchase many of these little items inexpensively at your local Dollar or party store. The Mission: Control! Toolkit doesn’t need to be fancy or pricey. The main thing is that kids understand how what’s inside of it becomes a hearty weapon for overcoming life obstacles! In the meantime, you can use the drawings of tools that my very talented illustrator, Joe Bauman, has created.
The examples listed above are just that: examples. I want to save you time and energy as you put together your own toolkit, but it’s just a starting point. Feel free to add your own items, let kids determine their own unique use for each item, and build your own arsenal of good in times of Big Feelings.
Over the next few articles, I will continue to share items in my own toolkit that I use when I work with kids and their families.
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.
I’m cheering you on in your work with the children in your life, whatever that role may be.
To all the caregivers: I see you. I know this is hard work. I pray this toolbox brings more peace and calm to you as well.
To all the educators: It’s a lot to manage a gaggle of kiddos in your classroom, all with varying ways of responding to transition and change. I hope this toolbox not only equips your students but supports you with another way of supporting multiple kids at one time.
To all the counselors: You have so many wonderful tools in your work with kids. I trust this becomes one more on your shelf of possibilities for helping kids navigate their Big Feelings.
Thanks to all of you for the incredible work you do! Together we can help as many kids as possible become thriving, resilient adults.