Kristi Kafka

Nationally Certified School Psychologist

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Mental Health


Resiliency Techniques in School Practice

NASP Communique’ March/April 2010, volume 38, number 6

Molony, Henwood, & Gilroy (and various website sources as cited, Google images)


Emotional Awareness

·         Feeling thermometer or feeling rulers help children rate feeling intensity. 

o   Have the child create definitions for each area on the thermometer or ruler. 

o   Help child start to link physical reactions to feelings (mind-body connection).

o   Can use for positive and negative emotions.  If you focus on positive feelings, helps children identify the types of situations that lead to feeling good.


Folded Corner: Angry – about to explode, take a time out!
Irritated – time to calm down, use a strategy
Annoyed – I think I can ignore it
Calm – I am listening but not participating
Happy – I am doing what I need to do



 faces rating scales.jpg


Develop children’s feelings vocabulary beyond happy, sad, and mad.  Use feeling faces cards, worksheets, BINGO games, and coloring pages to teach expanded vocabularies.



Make feelings watches/clocks with children and have them decorate the face and label it with feeling words.  Can attach the band with Velcro dots.

o   Where are you on your feelings watch?  What do you need to do to get to____?



Emotional Regulation

·         Remote control prop to illustrate importance of “changing the channel” when negative behaviors start.

·         Relaxation training

o   positive imagery/scripts


o   progressive muscle relaxation


o   deep breathing


Elevator Breathing - Begin by having your children observe the natural inhalation and exhalation of their breath without changing anything, then proceed with the directions.

Your breath is an elevator taking a ride through your body.
Breathe in through your nose and start the elevator ride.
Breathe out and feel your breath go all the way to the basement, down to your toes.
Breathe in and take your elevator breath up to your belly.
Hold it. Now, breathe out all your air. (Pause)
This time, breathe in and take your elevator breath up to your chest.
Hold it. Now breathe out all your air. (Pause)
Now breathe in and take your elevator breath up to the top floor, up through your throat and into your face and forehead.
Feel your head fill with breath. Hold it.
Now breathe out and feel your elevator breath take all your troubles and worries down through your chest, your belly, your legs, and out through the elevator doors in your feet.

Day time Follow up: Blow up a real balloon. Show children how it fills up, from the bottom, the middle and finally the top. Let out some air. Watch the balloon deflate from the top, the middle, and the bottom. Explain that they can inflate and deflate the air of their imaginary balloon (in their bellies and chest) in the same way.


Cognitive Flexibility

·         Thought bubbles – use stick figure drawings and/or situation cards to help children realize that many different thoughts are possible for any given event.

o   Example – picture of a child at the free throw line in a basketball game.  What would the thought bubble say?  What happened next?  How did the stick figure’s thoughts affect what happened?

o   Help children understand the connection between thoughts and actions.

·         Cover all the bases – use a baseball diamond or dominoes to illustrate a cognitive model with bases representing: 1) thought, 2) emotion, 3) physical sensation, and 4) behavior.  Helps children understand the relationships between the four variables.

baseball diamond.png


·         Thought records – like “changing caterpillar thoughts into butterfly thoughts” helps children take control of their thoughts and outcomes. 

o   Four columns: event, negative thought, feeling, positive thought/reframe

o   For older students add two more columns after negative thought: evidence to support the negative thought, evidence against it.



Negative Thought


Positive Thought/Reframe


Bill bumped into me and I fell and cut myself.

He did it on purpose because he is mean.

Mad and sad.

It could have been an accident.  I bump into people accidentally sometimes too.

Tell him I am sorry for blaming him.























·         Ms. Stakes Talks – for children with perfectionism tendencies.  Talk about feelings involved with making mistakes.  Then have children identify people they admire and mistakes they have made.  Ask, “What are the good parts of making a mistake?”

·         “Own It” Pie Charts – for children with attribution problems (they assume all or no responsibility for behavior).  Slice the pie into the different possible reasons for a negative event and assign “percentages” for each reason.


Who is to blame for the group science project not getting done on time?




·         Daily journal of accomplishments – at the end of the day they decide what to write.  Encourage them to think about ways they were extra helpful, kind, polite.

·         Predicting how longmany children rush through tasks or feel overwhelmed at the start of a task.  Ask them to predict how long a task will take them and use a timer to find out.  Afterwards, talk about what helped or hindered them and what they can do differently or more of next time.


 Perspective Taking

·         Empathy training – use fictional characters experiencing different emotions or stressors from books/movies.  Discuss the characters’ feelings.

·         Building empathy is an important part of building resiliency in children.  Students learn there are several ways to handle a difficult situation and different people have different emotions and behaviors.