The Helping Hands - Happy kids toolkit can help children and adolescents develop the skills they need to handle difficult situations and uncomfortable feelings in healthy ways.
What is Helping Hands – Happy Kids?
This toolkit can help children and adolescents develop the skills they need to handle difficult situations and uncomfortable feelings in healthy ways. Children need help from adults to regulate their emotions. Parents are often the most important helpers and teachers. If we work together with our children to manage difficult situations early in their lives, they will naturally learn to take care of themselves and their friends as they develop into healthy young adults.
The “Helping Hands – Happy Kids” toolkit teaches children and adolescents basic principles of the cognitive behavioral model for helping people improve how they feel, think and live their day-to-day lives. The methods they will learn can be used in any difficult situation they encounter. The main idea is that everyone can learn to live better by taking control of their thoughts and behaviors in situations where emotions run high.
The toolkit is comprised of a booklet, two action figures, and worksheets. The booklet explains that we can change our feelings by working on our thoughts and behaviors. Feelings can be identified and named. They can also be felt in the body. By observing and communicating our feelings, we can understand each other better. Your awareness of how you feel is a good foundation for deciding how to deal with your feelings. It’s also important to be aware of the ways in which our feelings are affected by our thoughts. The concepts of Green Thoughts and Red Thoughts are used in this toolkit to help children learn to separate helpful thoughts that make us happy from thoughts that lead to trouble. Green Thoughts make us feel safer and happier, and help us handle situations in positive ways. Red Thoughts make us angrier, sadder or more afraid than we need to be. Red thoughts make hard situations even more difficult to handle. The booklet challenges children and adolescents to actively choose alternative behaviors and thought patterns that promote happiness, coping and safety.
The booklet also challenges children and adolescents to identify the people around them who can offer support. Human beings are “pack animals,” and we need other people around, especially when emotions are running high. The booklet also offers examples from common situations in which the “Helping Hand” has been used to help children and adolescents recognize and cope with difficult issues. When children are able to recognize these issues, and discover that others also struggle with similar issues, it often gets easier for children to discuss their own struggles.
The Helping Hand is a worksheet shows an illustration of a hand, with labels that show the six categories into which children are encouraged to separate their experiences: What’s Up (thumb), Feelings (pointer/index finger), Red Thoughts (middle finger), Green Thoughts (ring finger), What can I do? (pinky), and Who can support me? (palm). The Helping Hand is a tool that helps children and adolescents to organize their difficult, complex thoughts and feelings. Completing the Helping Hand will help the user to get a better overview of a difficult situation.
The Red and Green Action Figures can be used in many ways—there’s no right or wrong way! Red and Green are there to help you to stay active and use humor to find ways to talk about difficult topics. Actively incorporating Red and Green into conversations with your child can make it easier for the child to learn to separate red and green thoughts. Using Red and Green can also make the ways in which thoughts affect us more obvious for the child—and for the adolescent and the adult, too! Red and Green can help view thoughts as external things. Thoughts can feel overwhelming at times. Red and Green help empower us and make room for thoughts that help us rather than hurt us. Some people find it helpful to use the Red and Green figures as reminders of these concepts. Some children also find it helpful to keep Green in their backpack, on their nightstand, in their pocket, or on the fridge.
How do I use the toolkit?
Learning requires time, motivation and practice. Using the Helping Hand to organize your reactions to a problem or situation is a new way of thinking for most people. When we are experiencing strong feelings, our capacity for learning is decreased. Our responses tend to be more primitive and automatic, and we don’t always have energy available for thinking clearly. That’s why it’s better to get to know the Happy Children – Helping Hand toolkit at a time when your child is in a good mood and able to maintain a positive attitude. Show the child the toolkit, talk about it together, and try to create an atmosphere of excitement and playful exploration.
The first few times you use the Helping Hand, it’s best to practice on a recent or upcoming situation that is engaging to your child. Most children will need many repetitions before they can correctly identify the situation, feelings and thoughts. But practice makes perfect! Learning to differentiate between situations, thoughts and feelings are basic skills that will help the child to more easily identify the aspects of a situation they can change, and work on accepting the aspects that can’t be changed.
You Practice First! No matter how grown up and well educated you are, you’ll still occasionally find yourself reacting badly in a difficult situation. Sometimes feelings come out of nowhere, contributing to negative thoughts and behaviors. And sometimes our own feelings can make it harder to see what our children need. That’s normal! Taking some time to organize your own thoughts and feelings can help you to get some perspective on the situation. Sometimes just changing your own perspective can be enough to make a change for your child. The problem isn’t always the child’s way of thinking or behaving. Sometimes, the problem and solution can be found with us—the parents or helpers.
Separating situations, feelings, thoughts and behavior alternatives is demanding for most adults the first few times they try this system. But it’s useful to learn these skills—if you get good at completing your own Helping Hands, you’ll become a better helper for your child or the children you’re working with. So, it’s a good idea to practice completing your own Helping Hand before assisting a child with theirs. Helping a child with something you haven’t tried doing yourself is hard to do!
In the example below, you’ll see the Helping Hand that Michael’s father completed. After completing the worksheet, he was able to better understand how he could support Michael in practicing the skills his child needed to succeed.
Before going shopping, Michael’s father completed this Helping Hand.
Use the toolkit in various settings! Children learn many things when they are feeling safe and comfortable with their parents. And children will often remember and use these skills without even noticing how or when they were learned. These skills and coping tools become automatic. The best lessons are often learned at home.
For many children and adolescents, it will be easier and more fun to learn how to use the Helping Hand from a social worker, teacher, or other adult mentor. Children are used to learning from adults, even adults they don’t know very well. But before daring to tell the adult about fears and difficulties, the child will need to trust the adult. The adult’s ability to create trust by spending time with and supporting the child will affect the learning atmosphere. Working in a group with other children can be another fun way for the child to learn about dealing with emotions. Children are often very good at helping each other and contributing to each other’s Helping Hands.
Some adolescents might learn enough to use the Helping Hand as needed just by reading the booklet and practicing a few times. But most adolescents will need more help, both to understand how to use the tool in general, and in particular to identify the Green thoughts that will help decrease the power of their Red thoughts to drive their behavior. When emotions are running high, most people will need support in order to continue using the toolkit. Asking an adolescent who they think would be their best supporter as they learn to use the Helping Hand in difficult situations can often yield some good and surprising answers!
Imperfect, and good enough! Perfect parents don’t exist. Most of us are far from perfect. We say the wrong thing and behave unwisely. And still, we’re good enough. If you catch yourself reacting counterproductively, it’s best to approach yourself with understanding and acceptance. Both children and adults need caring Green thoughts, especially in difficult situations. By modeling a positive attitude towards yourself, you’ll teach your child how you think people should treat themselves. Treating yourself with care is better for your child in the long run.
When is more than this toolkit needed?
A self-help toolkit is not always enough. Sometimes a wound is too big for a band-aid, and you need a doctor to put in some stitches. The same goes for mental health problems: sometimes, you need professional help to reduce pain and heal wounds. Mental health problems are not self-inflicted, and there are many ways to help someone feel better. If you doubt your ability to help, you should contact someone you trust to assess the situation and get the child the help they need. Often, all that is needed is someone who knows how to help the child develop bravery and self-confidence. Children need adults who are safe, kind, strong and wise to help them when the going gets tough. This way, they can learn, grow, and ultimately become more independent.