Many young children are visual learners. Often times, when upset, kids will say things that they don’t really mean. (Ok, who are we kidding, some adults do this too!) Today I’d like to share with you two strategies to help provide young children some easy visuals that you can use at home, or in your classroom environment to help them understand the effects of not filtering what they think.

The first example would be great for children beginning around age 4 and through elementary school. (Credit goes to a parent of a child with Autism who shared this great idea with me!)


Provide the child with a plate and a tube of red paint (or their favorite color paint if it will keep them more engaged). Ask them to open the paint bottle and pour out some paint onto the plate. Next, ask them to try to put the paint back into the paint container. Unless you have magical paint, there should be paint still on the paper plate that they can’t get back into the container. It will be pretty messy. You can then have a discussion with them about how when we are angry or upset, the thoughts in our head can sometimes explode out of our mouths without really meaning what we said. (This is the paint exploding onto the plate). You can say you’re sorry, (trying to put the paint back into the container) but there will still be remaining consequences such as hurt feelings, loss of trust from a parent or a friend, and it can be pretty messy (the paint remaining on the plate). You would then follow up with some ideas on how they can better express their emotions depending on their age.

A second activity would be to  use a coffee filter, rice, and a bowl. First, have your child, or a group of children, come up with a list of things that they (or others) might say when upset. Then explain that the coffee filter is our brain or mind and the rice is our thoughts. Next, using the props for the activity and the list they made, have them determine if it’s something that would be ok to say when upset or if it is something that should be caught in the “filter”.  For each example, you can have a child pour a little of the rice into the bowl if it’s something that’s ok to say such as  “I’m disappointed”. If it’s something that should be filtered such as “I hate you!”,  have them catch the rice in the filter to show how you can control what you think vs. what you actually say.

It’s also a good way to facilitate a discussion with your child about using their tone of voice. Saying “This is hard” in a whining voice would get caught in the filter as opposed to simply stating “this is hard” in a matter of fact tone of voice.  These activities are very helpful for children on the Autism Spectrum or with ADHD. I do have to say I really believe ANY child who needs a little extra help in expressing their emotions more appropriately can benefit from these simple, yet powerful, activities and the best thing is that it can be tailored to each individual child!


Katerie Breuer, MSW, LCSW, LISW-CPIMG_0259.PNG

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