In my son’s early elementary school years, I noticed he approached his homework with a pencil in his right hand and an eraser clutched in his left. The odd part was he never put the eraser down. He gripped it, rubbed it, even rolled it in his hand methodically like Play-doh. It didn’t take long to realize this eraser obsession was a self-soothing coping strategy. Essentially, the eraser was a makeshift stress ball.
I had never thought a little ball would be the dark horse of the school supply list. But it’s true! Between the expectations of independent learning and the stress of multiple assignments, it’s not uncommon for him to blow a gasket. I couldn’t enable him by doing his homework for him, yet I had to set him up with a structured environment where he felt in control.
Become Aware of Sensations
Since we knew he naturally gravitated to a stress ball device, I spoke to my son’s school counselor, Mary Carol Dearing, LCSW-R, RPT-S, and she advised that the objective of the stress ball is to teach children the difference between tension and relaxation.
“A stress ball isn’t a toy, but an object for calming. Therefore the stress ball isn’t a distraction or a crutch, but an alternative method of coping with stress or negative emotions. With it children release that energy by squeezing the stress ball. This way, by squeezing the stress ball in their fist, kids can experience the tension and the release of tension, thereby becoming more aware of the sensations.”
Another benefit of the stress ball is to reassure kids that it’s okay to be frustrated. And just because they’re supposed to be doing homework on their own doesn’t mean it is easy. By giving them a tool, they understand that they’re not alone. That was a big hurtle I had to get over with my son. He thought that his classmates were home skipping through their assignments like it was a piece of cake. By taking the time to address his needs, he could rationalize that a stress ball wasn’t invented just for him. Other people needed them and used them.
How to Make a DIY Stress Ball
2 balloons (I used 11″ balloons)
Step 1: Fill one balloon with dried beans. Funnels don’t really work, sorry. You’ve got to load them individually.
Step 2: When the balloon is amply filled, knot the balloon.
Step 3: Cut off the top part of the second balloon. You’ll be left with just the bottom bulb portion. Discard the top portion. for this step you could also reuse a balloon from a party.
Step 4: Insert the bean-filled balloon into the second balloon.
You’ll want the knot of the first balloon to go in first so that it is smoothed out by the second balloon.
I hope this is a helpful tool for students with final exams, state testing and end of the school year assignments. Both of my boys use these handmade stress balls. I find that it also helps to keep them focused while doing their homework.