Rainbow Jar for Feelings


Recently, my kids and I were having a tough time and i was reminded me of co-regulation tol, the rainbow jar. I made it when my son was little many moons ago . It’s the tool to help with feelings as a way to process them and hold space for them. When we opened up the jar recently we noticed we needed to update it. There’s nothing like jumping on the bed to make us feel better

My son wears his heart on his sleeve. Since his sense of justice systems, sometimes it can harbour some conflict with his peers. He holds on to this anger and it’s hard for him to come back to neutral. While i can appreciate his sense of fairness, it can get in the way of accepting the reality of a moment. He goes into fight mode pretty quick and is hard to get back into his calm window.

My daughter hates to be wrong, or in the wrong. If i am every angry at her (and of course, i am allowed to be as her mom), she holds on to this and then creates a grudge herself. She also really struggles when things are less than perfect.

Both of these examples are great ones because when we can learn emotion regulation and staying with a feeling, then we are able to also foster some self-reflection and a more healthy mindset of acceptance. In our family, we are working to allow space for all the feelings, not just the easy and positive ones. That is hard to do sometimes.

Gordon Neufeld’s latest work on resilience in children (and adults truly) focuses on the importance of Play, Rest, and Feeling. Having access to all three is an integral part to establishing resilience and bouncing back after a challenge of adversity. I love the intention of noticing a full range of feelings in this process. If you want to learn more about how to take care of your kid’s feelings, Sarah Rosensweet also has a great article on how to help children with their emotional backpacks.

With this in mind, i created this tool to help my kids notice and honour their feelings. And of course, i use it as well – both as a model and knowing i can benefit from it as well. We keep it right in the dining room where any of us can access it easily. The agreement is if one of us needs help with their feelings, and asks for company, we join them. I want my kids to know i am there for any of the feelings, so we carve out space. I help them set it up, and if i am prepping dinner or something like that, we negotiate the timing to honour everyone’s needs.

Here are some of our activities:

– Jump on the bed
– Eat some chocolate
– Read a book
– Rip up some paper
– Cuddle together and get some tears out
– Dance party!
– Listen to a favourite song
– Colour
– Play outside
– Talk to someone about it
– Find a pet rock
– Build a lego fort for my feelings
– Have a cup of tea
– Play by myself
– I spy with colours – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet
– 5 Senses game: 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things to touch, 2 things to smell (get out some calming essential oils, 1 thing to taste)

That pouch you see in the photo has some Worry Dolls from a trip to Guatemala from years ago. I love this sweet tool to help hold space for feelings with kids. Both my kids have one that they keep close, as a reminder. What are some fun and effective ways you help co-regulate those hard feelings?

I Was That Mom

I was that mom recently, in the grocery story. You know the one, where her kids are out of control and you don’t want to make eye contact with anyone. I should have known better; what was i thinking bringing 2 kids to the grocery store to get supplies for supper. Egads, i even bargained with them to get their own stash of candy and snacks for the week.

My kids are not toddlers anymore, so either I should lower my expectation to hope that we can we get errands done after school, or they will never be able to get their beloved snacks. Right now, I’m leaning on the no snacks for a while.

Let me back up and explain myself, as i am usually the one to tell others to not take kids grocery shopping if they can help it. It was April Fool’s Day and as a nice surprise, i thought it would be more fun to play hookie from school and go hang out with my sister and kids for the day. My son was all over that – he hates Mondays and school (what a terrible combo, I’ll give him that) but my daughter was upset to miss school, or at least the jokes she was planning to make on friends at school. After a bit of work getting her onboard, we went to visit my parents. It’s a quick road trip away, and yet it always seems to bring with it some baggage – in this case, my son has outgrown the toys that remain at my parent’s home from my own childhood. He gets bored quickly when there isn’t a book to read. His boredom quickly turns to irritability which can spiral down pretty rapidly. This leads to sibling conflict that is so triggering for me – they get mean and uncooperative, and downright aggressive, to me and each other.

It can be hard to shift after big conflicts, and yet i knew i had to find a solution (aka distraction) quickly. When i suggested to play hide-and-seek, they had no idea of what amazing options were at their disposal. Living in a 100-year old house in Toronto means no closets, so our hiding spaces are limited. Not so in a newer house.

Luckily, we found a way to enjoy the rest of the day. That is, until we drove home and got stuck in traffic on the highway, and it slowed our commute down considerably. My kids were fine. I had some foresight, so I pre-planned and brought their tablets to play with while i drove. Since i don’t drive often on the highway, i feel a bit anxious, so i knew that i needed any help i could get.

It was during this drive that i was able to reflect on what i needed to regroup. I had thought that i could just drive while listening to my favourite playlist, and i would be back to the city. I was still irritable from the kids’ conflict at my parents, slightly stressed to drive on the highway, and i was so thirsty. It’s one thing to do a checklist and see how i’m feeling, but a whole other activity to take care of that need when stuck in a car with your kids, and you are the one that’s driving.

Once we got to the city, i knew i had to get groceries or we wouldn’t have food for dinner or lunches. My kids shared that they were onboard with going, and we made a deal to get things quickly. But once inside, it’s like my son realized that he could have more fun by being silly. Sure, that can help boring things go by more quickly, but at what expense? He put all sorts of things in the grocery cart (dog food, but we don’t have a dog, meat but we’re vegetarian, you get the idea). By the end of our 20 minute excursion, i was so done. I contemplated just ditching our groceries and going home empty-handed, but i knew that would mean more work for me ultimately.

I’ve been noticing that my anger (hyperaroused state in the great Window of Tolerance tool) has been escalating quickly lately, and the logical side of my brain knows the tools to do to help calm down. I am trying to catch it a bit sooner. I knew that the anger (dare i say rage even) was brewing inside when while i was bagging the goods at the cashier. I felt eyes and judgement on me but i kept breathing and reminding myself that I would be home in minutes. I just had to get home.

Our family practices non-violent communication instead of discipline. Sure, that means we are a talking-it-out family, and yet i know that taking their candy (that i did buy) wouldn’t tell them how they acted was inappropriate – it would just tell them that i took something away that they wanted and i had promised them. Of course, they didn’t EAT any of this said candy when we got home, but we sure did talk about expectations, being a better team, and how to honour the agreements we made.

As a therapist, i know what i should be doing to regulate my emotions. As an attachment-based parent, I know that my kids’ behaviour was telling me something, and as a feminist i know that i have a right to be angry when there is more work on my plate just by going to the store with my kids. It’s a lot to balance.

So, i choose self-compassion – while i couldn’t make eye contact with the other customers at the store (a few with kids in tow themselves), i still knew that i was not the only mom in the world who was having a hard time taking her kids to the grocery store. That common humanity helped me. So did the time i took to myself when we did get home.

And so did the candy that we bought, that i snuck in for myself before making dinner that evening.

How to Catch a Rainbow

May is a busy month, with various key dates of celebration and recognition. Over the course of the month, i am going to share with you some tools and suggestions. First up, in honour of Maternal Mental Health Week, here is a tool that i put together. After studying both Dialectical Behaviour Therapy as well as more somatic/body-based self-compassion modalities, i find this tool can be helpful to help you take control of your emotions. I love acronyms as it makes it so much easy to remember the suggestions. Plus it’s a helpful reminder that we can be in control of our feelings.

It can be hard to take time for yourself, especially when we are told to take care of others and that it’s selfish to do kind things for ourselves. This tool can be a great way for you to steal some moments to yourself, in an intentional way. It also can manifest some good feelings that linger. Rainbows are incredible symbols of everyday magic or woo woo, and taking time to notice the joy and beauty in the everyday helps us with our emotional well-being. We deserve to notice these moments, and deserve to take time to pause. I also find the analogy of getting through to the other side of a storm, or getting to back home (over the rainbow) as reference. If you’d like your own worksheet version, go to my Resources for You page and make a copy – you can put it up on your fridge as a reminder.

R – What is an activity of REST that you can take a break with
It’s important to slow down and catch your breath. We can only see rainbows when we are able to be aware of what’s in front of us. This is also a great way to notice what we need an a given moment. What can you do in this moment to rest and relax? Can you put your feet up and just take in the sights and sounds around you? Linger a bit longer in the shower, add some luxurious hand lotion to your sensory self-care. Have a cat-nap. Maybe treat yourself to a nice mala bracelet with your favourite crystal – this can be a calming tool and a way to practice some mindful meditation.

A – ACCEPT as you are – it is what it is
Radical Acceptance is a helpful tool to be able to acknowledge something for what it is. That doesn’t mean we have to truly agree with it, but the acceptance can be a first step to let things go. This stops the pain from turning into suffering, and it allows us to be more present with ourselves in the present. When we don’t accept something, it keeps us stuck. So, try working with this idea and practice saying “it is what it is.” See how that starts to feel in your body. Maybe some parts feel less stuck or tight.

I – What is an INTENTION that you can set for your day
Setting intentions for a day, a week, or a year can be a guide that sets you with following where your want your life to go. The intention can be a simple word that carries meaning for you, or a mantra/affirmation that holds significance for you. If you don’t already have one, take some time to journal and brainstorm the words and phrases that are meaningful for you. It is a good way of giving ourselves permission to focus on what we really want, and to take ownership of our moods and behaviour. Then work on ways to implement it into your everyday life. Maybe there is a symbol that speaks to you as a guide – be it a rainbow of hope and luck, a butterfly of resilience, or a lavender flower that helps you feel calm. When you have a symbol that acts as Recalled Anchor (i wrote about it more here) or resource, seeing it in your everyday life is a great way to boost your mood.

N – Be NICE to yourself – practice self-compassion
Self-Compassion is not the same as self-esteem and yet they work well together. To have self-compassion, it implies that we need to treat ourselves with the loving kindness we give others when they need our support. Think of some ways to give yourself self-compassion – it can be a permission slip to eat some chocolate after a hard day, and to enjoy it without judgement. It can be to not do the dishes and instead watch some marathon TV. It can be a yoga stretch or dance to your favourite music. The compassion comes from reminding yourself that your matter and deserve this break.

B – Take time for yourself and read a BOOK
Reading is a great way for your brain to take a break from the monkey mind or inner critic. It is especially helpful when we are able to distract ourselves from the everyday worries and thoughts. You can get your dog-eared favourite book, or a new book that you have never read; it can be a fiction novel, self-help book, or a how-to book for something you want to learn. Take time to write in your own journal, free writing or following a guide. If reading is not your thing, no worries. Listen to an audio book or a podcast. This podcast that talks more about everyday magic and woo woo is a great listen! Watch a movie that you have never seen before – the idea is to let your brain relax and absorb what it is taking in, instead of the constant chatter it typically takes you to.

O – Go OUTSIDE and get some fresh air in your body
Research has shown links to fresh air, being outdoors and mental health. Our brains are elastic and benefit from the change in scenery as well as air changes. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and Polyvagal theory also show us that a quick walk outdoors can do a lot to change our mood. Everything is better outside. Think of some simple things you can do – a walk, sitting on your porch our balcony, a picnic snack during your lunch break for instance. Another benefit to getting outside is that there may be other people that you can connect with – it helps us feel less alone or isolated after being indoors when feeling down. You don’t need to have a long chat with someone, but a quick hello can be a great break your mind and body needs too.

W – Drink a glass of WATER to refresh yourself – take care of your body’s basic needs
In keeping with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it’s imperative to take care of your basic needs. Research shows that we need to nurture our physical body in order to heal our mental health. Do a quick checklist – when was the last time you drank some water, had a healthy snack, slept enough, did some exercise for your body? If it’s been 2 hours since your last water break, have a glass right now. And then find ways to allow time for the other ways to take care of your body.