Thumbs Up & Thumbs Down Actions

We all make choices every day. As we get older we become better at making good choices even when we are sad, worried or angry. However, children can often be more ruled by their emotions and find it more difficult to make good choices. Dr Paula Barrett refers to positive choices as ‘thumbs up actions’ and unhelpful or harmful choices as ‘thumbs down actions’.

In Dr Paula Barrett’s FRIENDS Resilience Programs we teach children that all feelings are okay, it is what we choose to do with our feelings that matters. If we are feeling angry we can choose a ‘thumbs down’ action such as breaking something or hurting someone or yelling. Or we could choose a ‘thumbs up’ action such as listening to music to help us calm down or talking calmly to someone about how we feel.

Below are some techniques you can practice with your child to help them make more thumbs up choices.

Paula Barrett Thumbs Up Actions


One of the first steps is to show your child how to calm down when they are feeling emotional. One simple technique they can use is ‘milkshake breathing’. Milkshake breathing uses a cup half full of water and a straw. You put the straw in the cup and take a deep breath and then blow the air out slowly through the straw so it makes bubbles, but the bubbles don’t overflow in the cup. As they practice they will learn how to breathe this way without the cup and can use the deep breathing to help them calm down when they are upset.


Paula Barrett Thumbs Up Actions


Brainstorm some thumbs up actions with your child that they can use when the are having different feelings. For example when they are angry they can do milkshake breathing, take some time alone to calm down, listen to music, talk to a friend or parent about what has upset them. You can create a list together of thumbs up actions for angry, sad, worried and scared.



Paula Barrett Thumbs Up Actions


Create coping cards with positive pictures or messages (depending on the age of the child) that can encourage them when they are feeling worried or upset. An example message could be ‘I can try my best’ or ‘I have friends and family who I can ask for help’ or ‘I can be brave’. The coping cards can be colourful and small enough to carry around and use in difficult situations.



The more children practice, the easier it will become to choose thumbs up actions. We encourage families to take notice and praise children for thumbs up actions. If your child needs more support they can learn more skills in Dr Paula Barrett’s FRIENDS Resilience Programs. For more information visit

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