tools and techniques for parents to help children with IBD and their siblings

Emotional health and wellbeing describes how we think, feel and relate to ourselves and others and how we interpret the world around us. IBD can affect a young person's emotional health and wellbeing in different ways.

This page offers some tips, tools and techniques to help parents and carers support a child or young person affected by Crohn's, colitis or IBDU, and also their brothers and sisters.

These are just strategies and ideas, they may not work for every child. They are very generic and can be adapted to suit your child’s age, motivations and what you are trying to achieve with them. For any specific advice as to how these could be applied to your circumstances, please feel free to get in touch with our team who are always happy to discuss ways of supporting your child.

Good emotional health and wellbeing is not only about feeling confident and happy, it is also about being positively engaged with the world and having a strong sense of self esteem. There is significant evidence that good emotional health and wellbeing also contributes to good physical health.

If you have a technique of your own that has been successful, please also get in touch as we are keen to learn from parents, carers and young people living with IBD what you have found most helpful.


If you can’t get your child(ren) to read any information related to their condition (or in fact anything that you think would be helpful to them) just leave some lying around on the kitchen table or in the living room so that it doesn’t look like you have done it purposefully! This may help to generate some discussion/questions in a relaxed way and at a time when they seem ready to have a conversation about it.

NB: Avoid ‘heavy’ reading/conversations just before bedtime when there is the potential for your child(ren) to start going over things in their head/worrying – this could generate issues with sleep/bedtime routine.


Using various groups of objects (i.e. plastic animals, pebbles, Lego people, Russian dolls, keys) ask your child to choose one/some to identify… themselves, others around them and to identify their feelings. Use the objects that the child chooses to generate some discussion around feelings, worries, friendships/relationships and anything that you want to try and draw out of them!

In terms of trying to understand your child’s feelings, support them to place the objects in order of significance. For example, place the object down that represents ‘them’ and encourage your child to arrange the ‘feelings’ objects around ‘them’ with the feelings they experience the most being closer to them and those they feel less often being further away.

If worries are placed close to ‘them’, don’t see this as a negative! it is positive that they have been able to tell you. If you can draw more out of your child about their worries, do so, but for many, this will be enough, they may not have any more to tell you (they may not know/be able to put into words why they feel this way themselves). Acknowledge that you understand he/she is feeling ‘worried, angry etc’, thank them for being honest with you and tell them that you are here to help them.


Yes, just the board game! Give each stick colour a theme, e.g. Yellow “Say something that worries”, Orange “favourite film”, green “important people in life”, blue “activities/interests” – can be changed according to motivation of your child and/or what you are trying to draw out. The nice thing with this activity is that all players have to join in, so everybody can see that we all have worries etc.

snakes and ladders

Whilst playing the game use the action of going up ladders and down snakes to explore things that are uplifting and things that can bring a mood down.


Using playdough as a therapeutic activity ask your child to choose colours that would demonstrate a worry/worries and then use the playdough to make shapes or models that describe the worry/worries in size by rolling the playdough into ball shapes

emotion cups

Using 2 paper cups (one inside the other, with a ‘window’ cut in the outer cup) ask your child to draw (on the inner cup) faces that show different emotions that they may have sometimes. The pictures on the inner cup will be seen through the outer cup ‘window’. The inner cup can be turned to indicate to you as and when their mood changes. When you make these (you could do one for yourself!) you could talk and agree how you want them to be used. Perhaps your child will come and find you with their cup as and when they need to and this can indicate the start of a conversation as to why they are feeling this way. Or, you may agree a special place that the cup sits, and you will check it at agreed times each day (i.e. after breakfast and tea) and will acknowledge with your child that you have done so, are aware how they are feeling and ask if they want to talk, have a cuddle etc.

A similar activity that older children may prefer……


Get your child to decorate stones that represent different emotions. Talk about what each stone means to your child, allowing them to say as much or as little as they need to. Agree together how to use the pebbles by having a conversation about how you should respond if your child is having an angry/sad day for example. What do they want you to do? (best to agree this when they are having a ‘better’ day!) approach them and probe them to talk? Give them space? Acknowledge/voice the emotion “you are angry today, if I can help let me know” or perhaps just give them a hug with no expectation that they talk etc. Agree where the stone will be placed each day so that you know where to look.

worry jars or boxes

Encourage your child to decorate a jar/box, add a notebook, pencil/pen and notelets to the jar/box for writing down worries and questions they may have but not feel able to verbalise.


Can be used as a way of calming and controlling breathing when anxious. Hold wand and count to 3 before breathing out to form the bubble. By doing so you are controlling breathing that may have become rapid through crying etc.

sand jars/bottles

Encourage your child to think of different feelings that they have experienced and get them to label each feeling with a colour (make sure they only choose colours that correspond with the chalks you have!!). Talk about why they have assigned colours to feelings and can they recall times when they have felt this emotion. Hopefully they will come up with a mixture of happy, excited, angry, sad, upset. Depending on the age and motivation of the child you can do the following:

  • randomly colour the salt in using all chosen colours and then funnel the salt into a jar or bottle to create a multicoloured decoration that can be a reminder that we all experience lots of different emotions throughout our life, not all bad, not all good, but all normal!
  • fill the bottle/jar with salt so that you know how much you need and then empty it out again. Separate the salt out into equal parts or however your child would like, colouring in and adding to the jar/bottle a section at a time so that the colours end up layered.
  • some children may like to talk a bit more about the feelings and how often they experience them, dividing the salt proportionally to indicate that where somebody feels largely happy and content, these colours are most highly represented. Mostly, as part of the conversation (and you wouldn’t generally do this with a child if you think that they are will struggle to acknowledge any positives) children will acknowledge specific times in their lives/instances where they feel sad, frustrated, angry but that in the grand scheme of things the positives outweigh the negatives.

weights and measures

Draw a stick person. Then draw some balloons attached by string to his/her arms, then add some weights to the feet. Ask your child to draw/write in the balloons what lifts them and then in the weights what makes them feel heavy and weighs them down.


With your child, write down as many emotions as you can think of and encase each one in a drawing of a leaf. If you can, laminate the sheets (you could always ask school to do this for you!!). Ask your child, alongside you, to circle/tick which emotions were present when they were diagnosed, which are present now and which are present at different times i.e when your child experiences a flare, when a hospital appointment is looming. Talk together and see if similar feelings have come up for both of you, what can you do to help each other if you are both feeling anxious/nervous before an appointment?

comic strip

Using a template from the internet, draw as a storyboard events in sequence that have taken place. These can be made into a story/cartoon and present like a comic strip or film set clipboard scenes. Useful for exploring what has happened i.e. recent diagnosis, what the fears may be etc.


Using either a pre made volcano (can be brought online) or use a clear empty water bottle (without a lid) to explore how emotions can be like volcano activity. The lava keeps building and eventually must go somewhere so it overflows and creates an eruption. This is like what happens with our feelings, if our worries keep building up inside our head and we don’t let go of them, they will eventually overflow. This can result in an angry outburst or suddenly crying over a seemingly small thing. Talk about coping strategies and ways of dealing with worries as they arise, finding activities that your child enjoys doing or helps them to relax.

Zen den, cosmic kids have some great relaxation clips for children to listen to