Why Do We Need Emotional Safety Skills? Our emotional triggers are thoughts, words, gestures, or other stimuli that cause our minds and bodies to explode with feelings.

  • When we are exploding with feelings, it is hard to think clearly or to make wise choices.
  • Positive triggers might lead us to feeling as if we want to please or belong with a person or group so much that we ignore our own boundaries, wellbeing, or values.
  • Negative triggers might lead us to being overwhelmed with feelings anger, fear, sadness, disappointment, or exhaustion.
  • Although all our feelings are normal, we are safest when we can stay in charge of our feelings instead of having them be in charge of us.
  • Practicing saying words out loud and making gestures with our bodies can help our minds to remember to use these skills in real life.
Here are Kidpower’s twelve emotional safety skills for all ages:

1. Calm Down Power to get centered in your body. To practice, put the palms of your hands together with your fingers on one hand touching the wrist of the opposite hand. Push the heels of your palms together. Straighten your back. Feel where your feet are. Take a slow deep breath and let it out again slowly and quietly.

Imagine that you are upset and feeling out of control. Now use the Calm Down Power technique. Put a peaceful picture into your mind. Say quietly to yourself, “Calm Down Power!”

2. Take the Power Out of Triggering Words to avoid giving enormous power to a set of sounds. Write down words or phrases that upset you. Say them out loud over and over, alternating with your favorite food, activity, or vacation spot. For example, “Creep! Pizza!… Creep! Dancing! …. Creep! Hawaii!”

3. The Emotional Safety Screen helps to screen out insults or threats and take in useful information. Think of a screen on a door or window that lets in fresh air and keeps out the bugs. Criss cross your fingers like a screen and look through the holes.

To practice, imagine that someone is speaking to you in a rude or threatening way. Use the screen gesture to help you remember to keep the insulting behavior and words away from you while letting in useful information that can help you to address the issue. You can also use your Emotional Safety Screen to avoid becoming overwhelmed with the news. Let in only the information you need to know right now without getting caught up in the intensity, details, or compulsion to keep watching.

4. The Emotional Raincoat helps to protect your feelings in an emotional storm when it doesn’t work to just leave. Maybe the person raging at you is a boss, a parent, a child, or a client. If you don’t protect yourself, you will probably feel miserable. Think about how a raincoat helps to keep your body warm and dry in a rainstorm. Now, imagine an emotional raincoat to help your mind and body stay calm and peaceful while someone is yelling at you.

To practice, either do this in a mirror or with a partner, going back and forth between the one yelling and the one using the technique. As the upset person, pretend to act angry by pointing, frowning, gesturing wildly, and yelling in a mean voice, “BLAH! BLAH! BLAH! You ALWAYS, BLAH! BLAH! You NEVER, BLAH! BLAH! I can’t STAND the way you, BLAH! BLAH! BLAH!”

Imagine protecting yourself from the other person’s emotional storm. Pretend to put on your raincoat. Without waiting for the other person to pause, say out loud de-escalating words like: “I am sad you feel that way. … I care about you a lot. … I understand …. I remember this differently. … We can agree to disagree. … You are important to me.”

You can also just nod your head and say, “I’m listening.” If someone is yelling at you on the phone, you can imagine wearing your raincoat while you time how long they keep going as you just listen. Sooner or later, they will run out of steam. If you are doing this practice with someone else, notice that, when you are the one acting mean, it can be hard to keep raging when someone else stays calm.

5. That’s Not True’ Technique to stop taking in hurtful messages that mix something that IS true with something that is NOT true. Make a “fence” by putting your hands in front of your body about waist high with your palms facing outwards while keeping your elbows a little bent. This gesture helps you to set a boundary. Say in a firm voice, “That’s not true!” as you say or someone else says hurtful messages like:

  • “You are awful because you are different.”
  • “You are worthless because you have problems.”
  • “You are a bad friend because you won’t do what I want.”
  • “You are ugly because of the way you look.”
  • “You are a baby because you cry.” (Even 3-year-olds will yell joyfully, “THAT’s not true!”)
  • “No one will care about me because I am ___(too old/young/disabled/poor).”

6.  Your Personal Trash Can can help to protect your feelings from hurtful words that others say or you say to yourself. Just ignoring unkind messages often doesn’t work. These words and images can get stuck in your heart or your head and stay there for a really long time. Instead of letting this happen, we can imagine throwing these words away into a trash can and then taking kind messages into our hearts.

To practice, take one hand and put it on your hip. The hole your arm makes is your Kidpower Personal Trash Can. Use your other hand to catch hurting words and throw the hurting words into your Trash Can. Now, say something positive to yourself. Cross your hands and press them both against your chest to use your Heart Power to take in kind messages.

For example, suppose you are saying to yourself, “I feel so stupid for making that mistake.” Catch and throw away the words “So stupid!” Now, put your hands on your heart and say out loud, “Mistakes are part of learning.” Think of other examples of hurtful messages you want to throw away and positive messages you can take in. You can also use a real trash can or do this in your imagination.

7. Heart Power helps us to take good things into our hearts, protect our hearts from hurtful messages, and use our hearts to connect with others.

To practice, imagine scooping up kind words and putting them into your heart.

Now, imagine someone is being hurtful and press your hands on your chest over your heart to block these hurtful messages.

Now, put your hands on your chest over your heart and them move them outwards, while imagining using your heart to be kind to someone else.

8. Adjust Your Emotional Distance when dealing with important people in your life who go back and forth between being great to being unkind. When someone you care about is mean to you, it can really hurt if you stay emotionally close by keeping your heart and mind wide open. Instead, you can imagine moving your body away physically while actually moving your SELF away emotionally.

Adjusting our emotional distance might mean letting someone else have the last word; changing the subject; or just not responding to an insult or a mean tone. Adjusting emotional distance can also mean choosing to stay off of the news or social media, if what we see there is upsetting, overwhelming, or just not good for us emotionally. 

You can practice adjusting your emotional distance in a mirror or with a partner. Start close and then imagine that the person is making rude faces and noises. First, back up quietly, putting your hands over your chest to use your Heart Power to protect your feelings while you move your body away. Now, move close to your practice partner or the mirror again. Just imagine moving away as you make calm statements such as, “Thank you for telling me” … And then change the subject, “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it? …. Shall we make some popcorn?”

There are also times that adjusting emotional distance can protect others from US when we are the ones being grumpy! Moving away from people instead of being mean to them can give us the space and time to use other Emotional Safety skills to calm down and manage our feelings safely.

9. Worry Wart Power means delegating the worrying to someone or something else. Ask a friend to worry for you when you are feeling nervous or offer to do this for someone you care about who is having a hard time. You can also imagine giving your worries to a tree, a rock, or a puppet.

To practice, say to yourself, “Worry! Worry! Worry!” Now, say out loud, ‘I have delegated my worrying to ____________ (my friend, my garden, this rock). My job is to let them do the worrying so that I can focus on __________ (taking care of myself, going to sleep, getting something done, having fun).” To do this for someone else, you can say, “I am excellent at worrying. Will you let me worry for you for a while? Then, if you start worrying, just remind yourself that I am doing the worrying job for you so you don’t have to do it.” See the video on: Worrywart Power: An Emotional Safety Strategy for All Ages.

10. Leaving With Love or Caring to avoid a conflict that is not resolvable at least at that moment. If someone is starting to act in an emotionally harmful and/or potentially physically abusive way, one choice is to protect yourself emotionally while you disengage from the conflict and leave with caring.

To practice, either with a partner or in a mirror, imagine that someone you care about says in an angry way, “I don’t like you!” Suppose these words cause you to explode inward by crumpling your body and whimpering, “Ouch! My friend doesn’t like me. What’s wrong with me?” Now, suppose that you explode outwards by shaking your fist and yelling, “HEY! Don’t you dare talk to me that way!” These reactions are likely to make the problem bigger. Instead, practice leaving physically while you say clearly, calmly, and respectfully, “I’m sad you feel that way because I care about you a lot. Let’s talk later.”

In our workshops with survivors of domestic or dating violence, we coach them to say calmly as they leave, “I love you. I would never do the awful things you are saying …. We’ll talk later after we’ve both had a chance to calm down.” In a dangerous situation, you might need to lie and say whatever the person wants to hear as you leave to go to a safer place. Leaving with caring in workplace setting might mean changing jobs in a positive way.

11. Reframing to help see a person, relationship, quality, or issue from a positive perspective instead of a negative one. Instead of “I have to..”, say “I get to…” Instead of saying “I can’t…”, tell yourself, “I have not yet learned how to ….” Here is a true story about reframing: Round Like A Full Moon.

12. Use Your “Eyes of Love” to remember to stay compassionate. Decide NOT to take it personally when someone you care about is acting in hurtful or annoying ways. Accepting that someone might not be able to help themselves can help you to let go of your upset feelings while setting boundaries if needed. We might not be able to choose someone else’s behavior. We CAN choose our response to this behavior. To practice, shape your hands into a heart. Look through this “heart” to see the other person with your “Eyes of Love” to help you remember why they are important to you. See: Kidpower’s “Eyes of Love” Success Story!

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Published: January 22, 2021   |   Last Updated: September 8, 2021

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.