Being a Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapist I truly believe that shifting the way we think about a situation is life changing. If we can shift the way we think our feelings (and behaviors) will follow the lead. This means the way we think about things is the key to feeling better, having more connected relationships, and behaviors that we can feel confident about.
Calming affirmations are specific phrases you can generate with a child or teen to help them gain control over their thoughts and regulate their emotions. It is usually positive or empowering in nature and is strengthened through practice.
Sometimes you need to be a detective with the young people you work with and identify together what are the situations that come up the most often that they are upset by and what they were thinking.
This could be with sand tray, puppet shows, drawings, or miniature role play. The ways that we can reach these themes through play are many!
Now, once you have the common themes and thoughts that lead to the distress (likely rooted in their core beliefs about themselves and the world) you can get really good and developing the specific statements that will be the most impactful in the moment for regulation.
My top 3 favorite are below:
I am safe.
At the end of the day nervous system dysregulation is all about safety. If our amygdala thinks something is threatening our life, like going to seriously injure or kill us, it will send us into the fight/flight response, which is all about safety. AND our amygdala will also send is into this response because of things it thinks are dangerous, not just things that are actually dangerous. Like that algebra test, having to get off video games, or when our friends don't invite us out to play. At the end of the day we need to remind ourselves that we are safe.
I have choices.
When we are anxious or angry sometimes we feel trapped. Like there is no way out of this thing that is in front of us. But, when we are using more of the regulated critical thinking parts of our brain we know this isn’t true. We know that there are choices, although sometimes not ideal ones. Even when that choice is what we tell ourselves and what we do with our own bodies.
I am loved.
One of the biggest threats to us can be a social threat. The fear of abandonment and rejection. Sometimes when one person can be unkind or rejecting of us it feels like ALL people in our lives feel that way. It’s just simply not true and when we check the facts there are so many people that care about us and love us.
Once you have the most important phrases that young people need to tell themselves, getting them to remember and use these statements is another story.
And part of that story? A lot of forgetting. And I get it, it’s hard if you haven’t practiced or don’t have a visual reminder. Heck - change in generally is really hard, even for adults with fully formed prefrontal cortexes.
You as the therapist have to get VERY creative for how to help young people retain and remember the statement. Sometimes it is art, other times it is engaging a parent for help, or a visual prompt.
My favorite for teens? Writing it on the mirror with a dry erase marker and rehearsing it before starting the day.
I wanted to share this FREE download of 15 of calming affirmations. They are easy to print out (either you or your client) and small enough to fold up, tape to a notebook, put up on the wall or mirror, or fold in a pocket.
Make sure you grab your copy HERE to help the young people you work with have another tool in their toolbox for calming self statements!
Looking for more resources for regulation? Check out my training on Keep Calm and Regulate On: Play Therapy and the Neuroscience of Emotional Regulation!
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I'm Ann Meehan, an LPCC, RPT-S, and EMDR Consultant. I help other therapists grow in their passions as play therapists, trauma therapists,and child and adolescent therapists.