Navigating Big Emotions: A Parent's Guide to Developing an Emotional Regulation Toolkit

Team Kindship
April 18, 2024
3 minutes

Ever stumbled across an emotional regulation toolkit? If you've found your way here, chances are you have heard about them. I bet you’re also parenting a wonderful little one who experiences some pretty big emotions. Parenting is full of surprises—we learn to navigate with classic phrases like 'You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.' But let’s be real: while little Susie might shrug and move on, not all kids find it so straightforward. Especially if you’re raising a child who is autistic, the standard playbook doesn’t always apply. You need to be ready with something special—an emotional regulation toolkit. So firstly let’s dive into to exactly what this is.

What is an emotional regulation toolkit?

Think of an emotional regulation toolkit as a super handy collection of strategies and tools designed to help your child manage those big waves of feelings they experience. It’s like having a trusty backpack filled with everything you need to help your little one navigate through their emotional world.

In this toolkit, you might find calming techniques like deep breathing exercises or sensory toys that help soothe and focus. There might also be emotion cards that help your child recognise and name what they’re feeling or a cozy corner setup where they can go to feel safe and settle down when things get too overwhelming.

The idea is to have these tools readily available so that when emotions run high, you’re not scrambling to find solutions—you’ve got a plan and tools that you and your child are familiar with. It’s all about making those tough moments a bit easier to handle, giving your child the confidence to say, "I can manage this!

I’ve been a mom for 11 years now, and for 9 of those years, I’ve been learning the ropes with my little autistic firecracker. It’s clear that parenting each of my kids requires different styles and strategies—sometimes requiring a bit more patience too!

Over time, I think I’ve naturally developed my own toolkit, even if I didn’t realise it at first. But here’s the thing about parenting: just when you think you’ve got it figured out, our kids throw us a curveball. What works one day might not work the next, and that’s where having a toolbox comes in handy. Instead of feeling flustered, you have a set of strategies ready for various situations.

Now, I’ve got access to the wonderful Barb, and I thought, why not ask her to help me refine my toolkit? The best part about Barb is that I can keep feeding her information and asking questions until I get exactly what I need. Here’s a look at the toolkit we crafted together—though I say ‘together’ lightly because she did about 95% of the work while I chipped in maybe 5%.

Sensory Overload

What it is: Overstimulation from the environment, leading to discomfort or distress.


  • Noise-Cancelling Headphones: To reduce auditory overload, especially in noisy environments like school or public places.
  • Weighted Blanket or Vest: Offers a sense of security and grounding when overwhelmed.
  • Visual Schedule: Helps reduce anxiety about daily routines by providing predictability.

How it Helps: These tools can help your child feel more in control of their environment, reducing instances of sensory overload and increasing comfort in various settings.

Transitions and Routine Changes

What it is: Difficulty adjusting to changes in daily routines or moving from one activity to another.


  • Timer or Visual Countdown: Gives a clear indication of when a transition will occur, helping your child prepare mentally for changes.
  • Transition Objects: A familiar object or toy that your child can carry between activities, providing continuity and comfort.
  • Social Stories: Custom stories that explain new routines or changes in a relatable way, preparing your child for what to expect.

How it Helps: These strategies can ease the anxiety around transitions, making changes more predictable and manageable for your child.

Communication Challenges

What it is: Struggles with expressing needs or desires, leading to frustration or emotional distress.


  • Emotion Cards: Cards with faces depicting different emotions that your child can use to communicate how they're feeling.
  • Communication Device/App: Technology options that can facilitate expression, especially in situations where verbal communication is challenging.
  • Choice Boards: Visual boards displaying options for activities, food, etc., enabling your child to make and communicate choices more easily.

How it Helps: Enhancing your child’s ability to communicate their needs and emotions can significantly reduce frustration and support emotional regulation.

Cognitive Overload

What it is: Feeling overwhelmed due to too much information or complex tasks.


  • Break Tasks into Smaller Steps: Use visual aids or lists to break down tasks into manageable parts.
  • Quiet Space: A designated calm area where your child can go to take a break and reduce cognitive demands.
  • Fidget Tools: Objects that your child can manipulate to help maintain focus or manage stress during challenging tasks.

How it Helps: These approaches can help your child manage and process information more effectively, reducing feelings of being overwhelmed.

Extending the Toolkit to Public Places and Other Environments

To ensure your child feels supported in various settings, consider portable versions of these tools, such as a small sensory kit with headphones, fidget tools, and emotion cards that can be taken to school, visits to family, or outings. Communication devices and apps should be easily accessible across environments. Preparation and planning are key — use social stories or visual schedules to discuss upcoming changes or events, reducing unpredictability.

So there you have it—a snapshot of an emotional regulation toolkit whipped up in no time, like 30 seconds to be exact. Sure, I could dive deeper, ask Barb to flesh out the nitty-gritty details, and map it out even more, but let's save that adventure for another day. For now, I'm armed with confidence and ready to tackle the world alongside my little dynamos. Whether we're at home or out and about, I feel a little more prepared to handle whatever comes our way with a bit more zen and a lot less stress. Here’s to mastering the art of big emotions, one toolkit at a time!