My husband has a “jump bag.” It’s filled with life-saving tools that paramedics use. He keeps it with him because he volunteers for the service in town, and may have to go at a moments notice. I’m pretty sure he even carries an oxygen tank in there. Basically, anywhere he is in the town, he is only a phone call away from saving a life. He is a prepared paramedic.
Our family needs first responders, too. We need to be able to respond to a child’s out-of-control or spiraling emotions in a flash. We need tools to help soothe sensory overload, or satiate sensory seeking behavior. We need things to help us be proactive, rather than reactive to our children’s emotional needs. And they have plenty of emotional needs!
Recently, we took a trip to visit Gillette castle here in Connecticut. For long day trips, we always plan ahead. We talk to both children about the long car ride. We role play and practice responses to possible frustrating scenarios. We brainstorm coping skills ahead of time. I ask the Littles, “Where can you sit in the car to make the car ride easier?” I guide them into thinking about sitting in separate rows so as not to attack each other on the ride. We carefully plan out what we can bring with us. Would Mary like to bring her blankie, her doll, or both? We give choices.
And then, we have the coping skills bag. I bring it on trips both short and long. I bring it to church. I bring it to events. Just having the bag helps Mary feel like she is prepared to handle her emotions.
Our Emergency Coping Skills Bag includes the following:
- An iPod with extra headphones. Music is soothing and it can drown out the annoyance of your siblings.
- An adult coloring book with colored pencils. This is a soothing activity that you can take anywhere.
- Sludge (or another gooey substance.) This is a fun sensory activity that is calming and keeps hands busy.
- A stuffed animal, blankie, or another transitional object (such as Dad’s dirty shirt) for hugging, squishing, and soothing.
- Word search or activity book. This gives them something to think about other than murder plots for siblings.
Having the emotional “jump bag” made our day trip possible. Two hours in the car and no one was physically assaulted. No one tried to climb out of the vehicle. No one collapsed from boredom. Not one meltdown! And the best part? We all got to enjoy our trip to the castle.
Apparently William Gillette wrote in his will that he did not want his castle to fall into the hands of a “blithering sap-head.” Although our kids didn’t necessarily retain all of the historical information from this trip, they remembered that phrase. I am proud to say that they both declared they would not be calling each other “blithering sap-heads” because it wouldn’t be nice. Hey, any day without a blithering sap-head is progress to me!
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.
*Photographs courtesy of my awesome husband, Luke!