Emotional first aid kits for teenagers

indexMost of us have about the house a first aid kit in case of emergency – a kit containing plasters, badges, antiseptic and the like. But how many of us have thought about creating an emotional first aid kit?

When I work with young people in counselling I often talk about the value of creating a first aid kit for their emotions. Thinking together about things that help or could help when they feel stressed, worried or low.

As as adult who was once a teenager myself I clearly remember days when I felt down, self conscious and anxious. My tendency in these situations was to end up dwelling and ruminating and ultimately feeling worse about about myself.

In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) there is a useful diagram referred to as the thoughts, feelings and behaviour cycle. What we think about ourselves in a situation has an effect on how we feel which dictates our reaction. If we feel low, our thoughts about ourselves are often negative and our resulting behaviour is likely to reflect this.

Thinking together with a teenager about the challenges they are facing in their lives and the ways they currently deal with their feelings is a starting point. If they are stuck in the cycle we might think about what they would like to be different, focusing on what makes them feel good about themselves.

I often introduce the idea of the emotional first aid kit at this point*. Does the young person have any hobbies, what activities do they enjoy – how do they feel when they are doing these, who do they trust to talk to? What do they do to relax? What makes them laugh? Are there any special places they spend time in. After a short while of discussion there are usually a good number of ideas that help; from talking to a friend, drawing, listening to music, to going out in nature, cooking, having a bath and watching funny clips on Youtube!

Alongside ideas that are specific to the young person’s interests I also may also introduce mindfulness and grounding techniques and quite often these end up on the emotional first aid kit too. Once the kit is completed the young person may take a photo of it on their phone –  ensuring they have it to hand to refer to in case of emergency!

Why not have a go creating one for yourself!

Nikki Simpson – Person Centred Counsellor MBACP (Accred)

*From Margot Sunderland’s brilliant book Draw on Your Emotions.