As a child life specialist, it has been exciting to see so many new coping tools and fidget toys created in the past few years for adults and children. Especially with the continued increase of mental health disorders among children and adolescents, having coping tools on hand is increasingly important.
What is often missed, though, is that it is equally important to teach children how and when to use these tools. Stress balls provide little therapeutic benefit when squeezed mindlessly. The same goes for telling a child to “just take a deep breath” when they are feeling anxious or stressed. Showing a child different ways to squeeze a stress ball or finding the right texture or tactile sensory input are all imperative for the effectiveness of a coping tool. Maybe the child wants to have a stress ball in each hand or do a tension release exercise while squeezing the stress ball. Furthermore, demonstrating for a child how to take a deep breath and using developmentally appropriate language to explain deep breathing to a child can make a significant difference in that child being able to effectively calm their body and support their nervous system. For example, showing a toddler that they can take deep breaths by blowing into a pinwheel or blowing bubbles provides a developmentally appropriate and intentional way for that child to focus on deep breathing.
Child life specialists assess each child and adolescent to discover the coping tools and fidget toys that will work best for them and create a coping plan surrounding how to use those items and when to use them to ensure they are receiving the greatest benefit from them. By doing so, children and adolescents feel more empowered to utilize these awesome coping tools for an intended purpose, rather than as just a toy.
Some of our favorite coping tools include:
Bubble Pop Fidgets
Handheld Sensory Massagers
Liquid Gel Timers
There are so many ways these coping tools and toys can be paired with deep breathing or other calming techniques to increase their benefit. Partnered with our knowledge and awareness of child development and mental health, child life specialists can implement the use of individualized coping plans, utilizing various tools and techniques, to decrease anxiety, agitation, or fear in various situations. If you would like to learn how we can find the right coping tools and techniques for your child’s needs, please reach out to us today!