Taming the Monster Within

When things get out of control and emotions are high children can feel like a monster within is taking over.

Peg Monster

You will need:


Cardboard or paper of various colours and thicknesses

Pencils or textas


Other craft objects that you may have on hand – i.e. feathers and googley eyes


Some children will have no problems in coming up with an imaginative creature but for those who may struggle, an internet search for ideas may help.

Draw an image of a creature and cut it in half.

Draw and add as much decoration to your creature and then glue the top half to the top half of the side of the peg.

Do the same for the bottom half of your creature.

The above picture is a fairly simple idea, but let your imagination take over!

Teaching Points:

When things get out of control and emotions are high it can feel like a monster within is taking over.

In actual fact it is the body’s defence mechanism going into fight or flight or freeze. Helping the child to understand what is going on in their brain will bring self awareness, understanding and hopefully self compassion.

When we experience high emotion the limbic system in our brain takes over and the higher cortex where our thinking processes occur take second-place.

For more learning about the brain with children I use ‘Your fantastic elastic brain: stretch it, shape it.’ by JoAnn Deak.

This is why it is so hard to make good rational decisions and choices when we are highly emotional. Helping kids to understand this can provide a talking point around shame at having done things when out of control. This does not take away accountability, however shows that when we have an awareness of what our brain in doing, we can make more informed choices.

For children, helping them to understand how the body feels when they are feeling highly emotional, such as angry or anxious,  can help them in learning to self regulate.

When children come to me for counselling, integrating self-regulation techniques is one of the first things I try and incorporate as they share their story.

Giving them practical techniques to empower them when feeling powerless is the aim.

I ask them how their body feels when they are feeling mad alright or anxious.  For some this is a totally new concept, as they have never linked together the way they feel and how their body responds and feels.

The first way I show to self regulate by using their breathing.  There are many different ways of doing this, but the simplest and most effective I have found is a 4 x 4 x 4 method.  

The 4x4x4 breathing method simply goes:

Breathe in deeply through the nose for a count of 4.
Hold for a count of 4.
Breathe out slowly through the mouth for a count of 4. 

I put this method on a picture of something the child likes, laminate it, and it is a ready and handy self regulating tool for them to use. An example of this is below. Ask the child to choose the image. Image from Pixabay.com

Model this to the child to begin with, and then practice it with them. Help them to experience the difference in their body.  Instead of feeling tight and wound up, there is a sense of release and calmness.  

Get them to keep practising until they are feeling totally relaxed.

This is a simple and easy method for children to remember to help self regulate and calm themselves when they start to feel they are getting out of control.

The peg monster could be made for the child to use while doing their breathing, and have their monster doing the breathing with them.  

One client of mine made a wonderful peg bird, with a long beak and feathers – unfortunately I forgot to get a photo!

For Grief and Loss

For children who are grieving a bereavement, and it is still very raw, I probably wouldn’t use this technique until the child has had some time to let out some of their emotions. I am all for crying and letting the emotion come out freely and letting the child be in touch with their emotions. Crying is a normal grief response.

Worden (2009) shows that there are a wide variety of normal grief responses and places them into four categories: feelings, physical sensations, cognitions and behaviours. Learning to self regulate using the breath crosses over and can assist in each of these four areas.

However there may come a time in the child’s journey when crying is not be the best response for them or may embarrass them, if they are back at school after the loss and they are worried about their peers responses to them. Learning this technique will allow the child a little bit of time to get themselves together again.

If they can calm themselves when they recognise they are going to cry or have a meltdown, they then have the option of going and doing something else, or changing their focus, or walking away or temporarily leave the room.

Learning to use the breath is a good place to begin for children learning to self regulate. I have seen children have success in overcoming anxiety using this method, and others have been able to walk away instead of retaliating.

It can be done anywhere and anytime. It can even help to relax when trying to fall asleep.

When children feel they can have some control in their lives to choose and problem solve, it can make a big difference.

Australian Curriculum

Health and Physical Eduction/ Personal, social and community health/ Being healthy, safe and active

ACCPS017 – Practice strategies that they can use when they feel uncomfortable, unsafe or need help with a task, problem or situation

Elaboration: describing warning signs (physical, emotional and external) that can help them to know if they are safe or unsafe


Australian Curriculum https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/f-10-curriculum/health-and-physical-education, as sighted 16/4/19

Deak, J. (2010). Your fantastic elastic brain: stretch it, shape it. Little Pickle Press: Illinois

Free images – www.pixabay.com – Thank you

Worden W. (2009). Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy: a handbook for the mental health practitioner. 4th Ed. Routledge. London.

Blue Skies Craft – Using Art and Craft to Restore – https://blueskiescraft.com

Blue Skies Tomorrow – There is always hope – https://blueskiestomorrow.com

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