The pandemic has been tough for everyone, but kids have arguably been affected the most. The social isolation, breakdown of routine, family stress and anxiety about the virus...it’s been traumatic, to say the least. As parents grapple with what they can do to help their children cope with these stressful events, educator Karen Gross is making the case for building trauma toolboxes.
“Trauma toolboxes (which can be renamed sensory boxes or break boxes) are designed to help children re-regulate when their autonomic nervous system is on high alert,” explains educator Karen Gross. Chances are you’ve already experienced your child’s nervous system heading into overdrive this past year (hello, Google classroom), but you may see it happen again if your kid is starting in-person learning this September, for example, or if they see something upsetting on the news.
So how does it work? A trauma toolbox helps young people deal with stress, anxiety and trauma by focusing on their senses. It can be adjusted to reflect a child’s age and developmental stage, as well as their context and culture.
“What is actually in the toolbox differs depending on the user but whatever items are in the box (or bag) are designed to stimulate the senses and allow someone to refocus and open new neural pathways that trauma has shut down,” explains Gross. You know how a fidget spinner can help relieve anxiety? Think of the box as an entire kit of sensory helpers that will help your stressed-out kid refocus and relax.
This toolkit can be used for a range of kids—and adults, too. Gross recommends them for children ages 3 and up (since kids younger than that might swallow or eat what’s in the box).
There is no one-size-fits-all toolbox for kids but if you’re interested in building one for your offspring and not sure where to start, here are some items that Gross recommends:
- Paperclips. “These can be hooked together, thereby creating connections, something that trauma truncates,” says Gross.
- Pipe cleaners. You can bend them, connect them and use them to create animals or shapes.
- Lifesavers. Gross likes these for their taste and also because of their name.
- Paper and crayons. There’s something about drawing that is just so soothing, right? Especially when used as a means of self-expression.
- Stress balls. This one’s pretty self-explanatory.
- Fidget toys of all sorts. “The newer ones that feel like popping bubble wrap are excellent.”
- Small bendable animal or finger puppet. We like these ones.
- A powerful word on a stone. Like hope, trust, believe, happy, joy, possibilities. (Don’t overthink this one—a single word written on a piece of cardboard will also work.)
- Something scented. This could be a scented pine cone, a marker, a sachet or a scented oil.
- A musical instrument or noisemaker. Maracas, a triangle or a recorder would all work.
- Something unusual to capture the imagination, like worry dolls or friendship bracelets.
The trauma toolkit can be used in a variety of situations. You can bring it out whenever you feel like your child is in the middle of a high-stress situation, for example, or you can place one in their room or backpack and encourage them to open it whenever they feel the need. It’s a simple strategy but can be highly effective, says Gross. We honestly might even create one for ourselves.
Find out more information on how to create a trauma toolbox here.