Help calm anxious children at home or in the classroom with this list of co-regulation and self-regulation strategies, calm-down tools, and calming resources for kids.
Learning to calm down and self-regulate is an essential social-emotional skill for children and adults. Kids and adults can use the self-regulation strategies below to prevent, reduce, and eliminate many adverse reactions and behaviors that can occur in response to the challenges in life.
Social-emotional learning is one of childhood’s most important, often forgotten, developmental domains. And, most people don’t master it until adulthood–if at all. Learning first to co-regulate and later to self-regulate lies at the heart of this developmental domain and is one of the keys to emotional intelligence.
Children (and adults) who have learned emotional regulation skills can stay calm when faced with stressful circumstances, cope with big emotions, adapt to challenging situations, manage their reactions to life’s varied events, and respond appropriately to their environment.
First, scroll down to learn more about co-regulation and self-regulation and why they are essential social-emotional skills for children and adults to master. Next, look through the list of calm-down strategies to help kids self-regulate. You might also enjoy reading children’s fairy tales because they can also aid social-emotional learning.
What is Self Regulation?
Self-regulation, also known as emotional regulation, is the ability to control our thoughts, impulses, and emotions–and how we respond to them–in stressful situations. Becoming more mindful of how we react when we become anxious, upset, or overwhelmed; and choosing to respond calmly instead of getting upset or engaging in other harmful behaviors is how we master this essential skill.
When we know how to self-regulate, it’s easier to stay calm when faced with challenging circumstances, adapt to stressful situations and environments, cope with big emotions, and respond in healthier, more appropriate ways. Could you imagine what the world would be like if more people knew how to self-regulate and took the time to think before acting?
No one is perfect. As human beings, we can all overreact and lash out at times. But learning how to self-regulate can prevent, reduce, or eliminate the amount and duration of our negative responses as we become more emotionally adept and mindful of our reactions. And this makes the ability to self-regulate an essential social-emotional skill for both kids and adults to master.
Challenging behaviors are often just a sign that children cannot handle their big emotions. And sometimes, these emotions, whether mad, scared, or sad, can become too overwhelming to deal with, and the child cannot remain calm. Fortunately, the list of self-regulation strategies for kids below can help parents, teachers, and other caregivers teach children this essential social-emotional skill.
Why is Self Regulation an Important Skill to Learn?
Learning how to calm down and self-regulate is an essential skill for kids (and adults) because it leads to emotional maturity and our ability to form social connections. Self-regulated children are better at coping with disappointment, stress, and frustration. Thus they tend to be calmer, more centered, and more focused than dysregulated children.
When children can self-regulate, they are more likely to do well in school, make lasting friendships, become efficient problem solvers, and form strong family bonds at home. In contrast, the inability to self-regulate can lead to social, emotional, behavioral, and academic issues.
Thus, teaching children how to self-regulate can help reduce the amount, severity, and duration of times they become overwhelmed and assist them in those moments when they lose control. And, even better, those moments of distress will become less and less likely as the child gets better at self-regulating. Because when children work towards mastering the skill of self-regulation, they get better at controlling their reactions.
Their problem-solving abilities will also improve when faced with everything from simple setbacks to highly challenging situations, and this makes children who can self-regulate more likely to experience success.
How Do You Teach Kids to Self-Regulate?
If you are wondering, “How can I help my child self-regulate? You have come to the right place. Below is a list of calming strategies for kids, from toddlers to teens, that you can use to help children self-regulate.
It can be difficult for some children to calm themselves with little to no assistance from a parent, teacher, or caregiver. It can also be challenging for many kids to learn how to self-regulate, even with co-regulation help from a caregiver.
And children living in disadvantaged environments or experiencing abuse generally have much more difficulty regulating emotions and behaviors and experiencing success. Because oftentimes, they do not have a self-regulated caregiver to help them co-regulate. This makes understanding self-regulation and moving children toward mastery of this social-emotional skill crucial for parents, teachers, and other caregivers.
Thankfully, learning how to cope and adapt is a brain-based skill that children can learn with practice, and there are several tools you can use to teach kids how to self-regulate. And, good news, many of the calming self-regulation strategies on the lists below are free–or easy to make!
What is Co-Regulation?
The ability to self-regulate begins with co-regulation. Babies need loving parents or caregivers to develop cognitively, emotionally, and socially. In other words, babies and young children need a positive example (parent or caregiver) to develop healthy cognitive and social-emotional skills.
Co-regulation begins when a parent or caregiver is present for a baby in stressful moments and responds appropriately to their needs. In other words, the caregiver is there, attuned to what the baby is experiencing, or might need, attends to that experience or those needs in an emotionally healthy or meaningful way, and will continue to be there to meet the needs that develop over time until adulthood.
This is why children who experience trauma, or abuse–or live in a low-income, war-torn, or otherwise disadvantaged environment (with limited co-regulation help) make learning how to self-regulate challenging for many children worldwide.
How Does Self Regulation Develop?
Self-regulation develops in early childhood (between the ages of three and seven) primarily through environmental influences and the experiences we have in our day-to-day lives.
First, we learn by watching how our parents, family, and other caregivers react to the events and happenings in life. And later, we learn by watching our friends, teachers, and co-workers deal with various situations.
Of course, other factors–such as autism and other mental health conditions, stressful environments, neglect or abuse, past traumatic experiences, or the lack of a healthy caregiver to assist with co-regulation–can negatively impact children’s ability to calm down, self-soothe, and learn to self-regulate.
But most of us grow up unconsciously modeling the actions we see the people around us do. Monkey see monkey do. Fortunately, we can become more conscious of these unconscious habits and improve our ability to self-regulate with the preventative calm-down strategies on the list below.
Other Factors Involved with Co-Regulation and Learning How to Self Regulate
When helping children learn to calm down and self-regulate, it’s also important to consider other factors contributing to their distress. Lack of sleep, hunger, inadequate nutrition, and overstimulation can amplify negative emotions and increase stress and anxiety levels.
Educating ourselves as parents and teachers and working to control these issues from negatively affecting children’s behavior is a great way to prevent them from negatively affecting their ability to calm down–and can thus increase their ability to self-regulate. Several calm-down strategies on the list below can help children control and eliminate these crucial issues. And most of them are free and easy to implement.
Toddlers and preschoolers, children from disadvantaged environments, and children who have experienced abuse or trauma in their past generally have a more challenging time with self-regulation. And the same is true for children with learning difficulties, ADHD, and other special needs.
Severe anxiety, autism, or other mental health conditions can negatively affect a child’s ability to calm their emotions independently. So, if your child has any of these diagnoses, or you think they might, please seek the help of an Occupational Therapist, Doctor, Psychologist, or expert in the field.
Calm-Down Strategies for kids: 25 Ways to Help Kids–From Toddlers to Teens–Learn to Self-Regulate
Prevent emotional meltdowns and violent outbursts at home and in the classroom with the calming strategies for kids, from toddlers to teens, on the list below. When I worked as an ocean lifeguard, one of the essential mottos drilled into my mind was the phrase, “Prevents before rescues.”
In other words, lifeguards are taught to go out and inform the public. To make “prevents” so people are less likely to need help, get themselves into trouble, or need to be “rescued.”
Because it takes a lot more time, effort, and resources to help people in trouble than it does to prevent them from getting into trouble, it’s also much easier and a lot safer to prevent accidents from happening than to attempt to fix them once they occur.
Each self-regulation strategy, tool, and resource on the list below can help parents, teachers, and caregivers do the same. Use the self-regulation strategies on the list below to “make prevents before rescues” at home and in the classroom.
In other words, use the social-emotional strategies and tools below to prevent tantrums, reduce the severity and duration of emotional outbursts, and help children learn to self-regulate–so they don’t need to be rescued.
1. Modle Positive Behavior
Help your child co-regulate by staying calm in moments of distress and modeling healthy self-regulation skills. Most children learn how to manage their anger and self-regulate by watching and learning from the people they spend the most time with–their parents and caregivers. As the saying goes, “Monkey see–monkey do.”
And because children tend to mirror the reactions and behaviors of the adults around them, it is best when parents, caregivers, and teachers can model appropriate behaviors, responses, and reactions to life events and happenings.
For example, speaking with a warm and gentle tone, even when angry or upset, is just one of the many ways we can model positive behavior and help our children learn to co-regulate and eventually self-regualte. Several more examples are sprinkled throughout the remainder of this article.
How Do You Model Self-Regulation Skills to Children?
When I get angry, I do my best to show my daughter appropriate ways to manage it. This includes using calm-down tools and techniques such as taking a deep breath, counting down from 10, apologizing when necessary, and talking about my feelings when appropriate.
I’m nowhere near perfect– but I do the best I can like every other parent (or teacher) out there. And it doesn’t matter that I spent several years in graduate school getting my M.A. and pursuing a doctorate in psychology.
Nor does it matter that I have over 25 years of experience teaching, coaching, and caring for children–I still make many mistakes. I am human, after all.
The difference is that I use those mistakes to learn how to do better next time. In other words, my mistakes teach me how to be a better parent, teacher (and coach), and person every day.
So, the best you can do is to stay calm and model the self-regulation skills you hope to see your children using, and this will help your children learn to co-regulate. And remember, when things don’t go as planned, and you mess up, that’s okay too. How will children learn from their mistakes if we don’t show them how?
The most important thing we can do to teach children is to apologize, communicate, and do our best to be calm, kind, empathetic, and respectful of each other. Sharing where I went wrong, what I can do to fix it, if anything, and how I plan to do better next time is my recipe for getting through those challenging times.
But, of course, that’s not always possible. So we just do the best we can moment by moment. Learn more about teaching children through the power of example in How to Teach Kids Good Manners and How to Raise a Helper.
2. Eat a Healthy, Well-Balanced Diet
Eating an adequate healthy diet is one of the factors that can help reduce stress and anxiety during times of upset and overwhelm. A well-balanced, healthy diet can also regulate blood sugar levels, which can help us regulate or control our emotions.
So, feeding kids a healthy, well-balanced diet should be a primary self-regulation strategy at home and in the classroom.
When my daughter gets upset, I often say, “It sounds like you need something to eat.” And, most of the time–depending on how hangry she is–she doesn’t object. And instead of continuing to erupt in anger, she allows me to help her find something to eat.
You might be asking, “Is feeling hangy real?” Yes, you do get angry when hungry–and now there is research to prove it!
“…the experience of being hangry is real, insofar as hunger was associated with greater anger and irritability, and lower pleasure… These results may have important implications for understanding everyday experiences of emotions…”Research Article
3. Ensure Kids–Especially Toddlers and Teens–Get Enough Sleep
Helping kids develop healthy sleep habits and get the rest they need is a great way to help children stay calm, cool, and collected in times of stress. The need for enough rest makes ensuring that your children get plenty of sleep one of the most important things you can do to give your kids a head start.
In my experience, creating a daily rhythm is the best and easiest way to ensure that your kids get enough rest at night and throughout a 24-hour day. Please see the section below for more information about creating a daily and weekly rhythm to help your children get the sleep and downtime they desperately need.
How Much Sleep Do Kids Need by Age?
Typically, toddlers and teens need more sleep than the rest of us. Their brains and bodies are so busy developing during these crucial growth periods that they need a little extra time to rest and rebuild. Fortunately, naps work wonders if you can get them to go for it.
Unfortunately, most toddlers and teens refuse to rest. So, do the best you can to help them get the sleep they need in any way you can. For sleep recommendations by age, look at this fantastic resource by the CDC–> HERE.
I also recommend checking out a book titled “Healthy Sleep Habits Healthy Child” by Marc Weissbluth, M.D. It’s one of the most dog-eared and coveted parenting books on my bookshelf. It offers valuable advice with examples on getting your children to sleep so they get the rest they need.
It’s also important that we–as parents, teachers, and caregivers–get enough rest and plenty of sleep each night. Remember, children are watching and learning from everything we do. Teach your children how to take care of themselves, and get the rest they need by doing it yourself–and they will learn to follow your example.
4. Create Structure and Consistency with a Daily and Weekly Rhythm
Using the universal law of rhythm to create a daily and weekly routine is a great way to create the structure and consistency needed to help children learn to self-regulate and live calmer happier lives.
Learn how to create a weekly rhythm with the–> Quick Start Weekly Planning Guide.
Having clear rules and following a consistent daily routine can not only help children get the sleep they need, but it can also reduce tantrums and meltdowns and create a strong foundation that will help the whole family thrive.
When children know what to expect–and what we expect of them–they are less apt to become upset during transitions. They are also less likely to have a major meltdown or fly into a rage–when they know what’s coming next. Predictability decreases stress.
Creating a daily and weekly rhythm, and using tools such as visual routine cards, will help children know what to expect in their day-to-day lives, reducing anxiety when it’s time to transition.
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5. Establish Clear Rules with Logical Consequences at Home and in the Classroom
Clear rules, paired with logical consequences if broken, can help create structure and consistency in the home or classroom when enforced in a kind and straightforward way. Children need boundaries to feel safe and secure, and when children feel safe, they are less likely to act out or have an emotional meltdown.
So, creating clear rules with logical consequences is a great way to help children with self-regulation issues. For more information on positive discipline and logical consequences, look at this list of positive discipline books for parents, teachers, and caregivers.
6. Use a Visual Routine Chart Or Checklist
A visual routine chart, or checklist, is a valuable self-regulation tool for kids from toddlers to teens. Even adults find a checklist helpful–I sure do!
Put visual routine cards into a visual routine chart, or use a printable checklist to help children know what to expect, stay on task, complete their chores and homework, plan activities they enjoy, and make transitions much easier to manage.
We include both of these fantastic self-regulation tools inside the Family Systems Toolbox. Or, purchase Home & School Tools for Kids or Visual Routine Cards separately.
(Psst–if you haven’t grabbed a copy of the Quick Start Weekly Planning Guide, I recommend starting with that–new subscribers get a sweet deal on the Family Systems toolbox!)
7. Reduce Unnecessary Demands
Ensure children’s schedules are not overloaded. Too many responsibilities or extra-curricular activities throughout the day can increase stress and decrease children’s self-regulating ability.
8. Spend Time in Nature
Spending time in nature is a great way to calm mental chatter, reduce stress, calm an overwhelmed child, and connect with the natural world. And it’s a self-regulation practice that has been around since ancient times.
How does spending time in nature help children (and adults) Self-REgulate?
Ancient earth-based cultures have long revered the natural world and celebrated nature’s seasonal rhythms, such as the winter solstice and the spring equinox. And evidence of the benefits of spending time outdoors immersed in nature continues to build as more and more scholarly research is completed.
“..the results indicate that a three-minute exposure to natural environments could potentially already help us improveself-regulatory capacity needed to control impulses. As a strong self-regulatory capacity is important for numerous health out-comes, our ﬁndings once more stress the importance of exposure to nature in our daily lives.”(Source – research study about exposure to nature and self-regulation)
Fortunately, you don’t need to go far to use this calming self-regulation strategy for kids. Your backyard or patio works fine in a pinch, but going out into the natural world is even better if you can get there easily and make it happen.
The Japanese call it Forest Bathing, Richard Louv calls it Vitamin N, and Florence Williams calls it the Nature Fix. But no matter what you call it, most of us know and have experienced the myriad of positive psychological benefits that spending time in nature can provide.
Since my youth, spending time outdoors in nature has helped me reduce stress, improve my mood, help with self-regulation, and so much more–and I know I’m not alone. A body of research evidence is growing to back up each of these claims and more.
So, get children outside playing, learning, and most importantly, having fun with this massive list of self-regulation ideas–>Outdoor Learning Ideas and Nature Activities.
9. Keep Their Bodies Moving with Daily Exercise
Like getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet, moving the body daily is a crucial self-regulation strategy for kids. People get edgy when their bodies don’t get enough exercise throughout the day. And this can result in flared tempers, emotional dysregulation, and unnecessary angry outbursts.
Fortunately, daily movement and exercise make it easy to prevent these types of meltdowns. So, do your best to get children outside moving every day. And, if time, space, or inclement weather are of issue, try yoga for kids! It’s an excellent way to help kids get the daily exercise they need–and another excellent calming strategy.
Home & School Tools for Kids has a few fantastic resources to help children, from toddlers to teens, get the movement they need during the day. Use the visual routine charts for toddlers and preschoolers or the daily and weekly planners and checklists for school-aged kids to help them remember the elements of their daily rhythm and stay on task throughout the day, week, and month.
10. Read Children’s Books About Emotions, Anger Management, and Growth Mindset Books To Kids
Reading certain books to children, such as those on the book lists below, can help prevent toddlers and preschoolers from having temper tantrums and promote social-emotional learning in older kids and teens.
Because reading books about feelings to kids will help them understand their big emotions and teach them to self-regulate, so they no longer become upset or lash out at the slightest provocation.
And in my experience, reading kids’ books about feelings and emotions, like anger management, can not only reduce the amount or number of times that children become upset. But they can also help reduce, if not eliminate, the amount and duration of time children stay upset.
And when children understand their feelings and emotions, it can prevent the amount and severity of tantrums or meltdowns and help them learn to self-regulate.
In other words, when you read these types of books to children, they get upset less often, and it takes them less time to get over their feelings of frustration and move on.
So, read children’s books that teach them how to understand their feelings, manage their anger, and other important lessons to help them stay calm in stressful situations. “Make prevents before rescues.”
Children’s Books That Can Help Kids Learn Self-Regulation Skills:
- 15 Books To Help Kids Manage Anger
- Books To Help Kids Understand Their Feelings
- Books for Kids that Teach Important Life Lessons
11. Play Social Emotional Learning Games
Another great way to make “prevents before rescues” is to play social-emotional development learning games with kids from toddlers to teens.
Like reading books about feelings and emotions, they too can help children learn how to calm down and self-regulate when life gets tough. Have a look at this list of social-emotional development games to learn more.
12. Support and Encourage Their Efforts
Growing up is challenging. Give children the guidance, feedback, loving support, and encouragement they need to feel valued and understood as they learn to self-regulate, develop self-regulation skills, and grow into mature adults.
13. Always Start with Empathy: Validate Feelings and Emotions First!
One of the best things anyone can do for another person–toddler, child, or adult–is to validate their feelings and emotions.
Doing our best to learn how someone is feeling and express our understanding and empathy of their situation–regardless of our opinions–is a parent, teacher, or caregiver’s greatest calling. And most challenging duty.
Most tantrums and emotional upsets are caused–or intensified–when we don’t feel understood. And most toddlers (and teens) are notorious for thinking that we don’t know what they want and freaking out to get their way.
This makes remaining cool, calm, and collected extremely difficult in some situations, and often, our judgments, opinions, biases, and bad habits can get in the way.
So, I have a simple recipe for statements and phrases that I use in “those” situations.
How to Demonstrate Empathy and Validate Feelings in Moments of Distress
The best way to demonstrate empathy and validate feelings when your children are on the verge of a meltdown is first to tell them, or repeat back to them, what they want–or what it seems they want, need, or are feeling.
Next, tell them why they can’t have what they want now. And finally, deliver a compromise, and I promise it will be much easier for you to get your children to do what you need them to do.
An example would be, “I can see that you are upset and don’t want to leave the park right now, but we have to go pick up your sister, so how about we come back tomorrow?”
But always, and I mean ALWAYS–start with empathy by validating what you hear them saying or emoting–FIRST. Your opinions, judgments, policing, and emotional reactions will only make them more upset and unreasonable.
Kids (and adults) often get more upset when they don’t feel heard. So make them feel heard and understood before you do anything else.
The simple statements in the next section work wonders, but you must use your listening ears and only repeat what you hear the child saying–or whatever it is you think they want when they can’t use their words to tell you.
In other words, validate their emotions instead of forcing them to do what you want them to do, telling them what you think of the situation, or trying to fix it. Validate their feelings first; you can help them fix the problem, discipline them, or give them the logical consequences of their actions later.
Simple statements to validate feelings and emotions:
- “What’s happening now?”
- “I hear you saying” or “it looks like you want” (repeat what you hear them say using their exact words or what they seem to want if they can’t tell you.) Then, ask, “Do I have that right?”
- “You sound, seem, or I hear you’re (upset, frustrated, angry, sad, etc.) Do you want to tell me about it, or do you need some space?”
14. Encourage Kids to Practice Yoga
Yoga is an ancient spiritual practice that can help kids (and adults) learn to self-regulate, among many other benefits. Not only can the postures, called asanas, help you calm down and find focus in moments of stress, but the practice of yoga itself leads one from self-regulation to self-realization with regular practice.
As in meditation, when you meet your capital “S” self on the yoga mat, there is nowhere to hide, and we begin to see our upsets and, therefore, ourselves more clearly. And becoming a witness to ourselves in this way can lead to a profound personal and spiritual transformation. Learn more about yoga for kids, and look at this list of free kids’ yoga videos.
15. Teach Children to Meditate
One of the goals of meditation, like yoga, is to calm and stabilize the mind. Both practices are excellent self-regulation strategies to help children stay calm in stressful moments, cope with big emotions, and adapt to challenging situations instead of reacting negatively to life events and happenings.
And although they are very different in scope and practice, yoga and meditation ultimately lead toward the same end–the realization of the Self.
Meditation looks different for children of different ages. Some children can not sit still for long, which is okay. Set an example by starting a meditation practice yourself.
How do you teach kids to meditate?
The most important thing you can do to help children learn to meditate is to create the habit of meditating by making it a part of your children’s daily rhythm or routine.
It can also be helpful to explain the benefits of sitting for a moment to calm the mind depending on the age of your children. Use examples from your life and meditation practice if you have any to share.
Get kids started with brief exercises like deep breathing and big belly breaths–learn how at the bottom of THIS post. Finally, invite children to meditate for only a minute or two at first–if they can make it that long!
Make it fun for them to settle down and sit calmly. Ask them to start in a tall but comfortable sitting position, close their eyes and focus on their breath, slowly moving in and out of their nose.
Some children have a hard time sitting for longer than a few seconds at first. And that’s why it’s called a meditation practice. They will learn to sit longer and become calmer and more focused with practice. Encourage your children to practice daily; I promise they will improve!
Meditation Tools For Kids
In our home, we use our tabletop and outdoor fairy gardens as meditation tools for children. We even made one in a tree stump!
Invite a child to sit for a few moments with their eyes open, and gaze upon the fairy garden to calm and focus the mind. Give it a try!
Sensory bottles are another excellent self-regulation toy for kids. They can help calm children when they become anxious or overwhelmed and are also an excellent tool to help kids learn to meditate.
Invite children to focus on the contents of a sensory bottle to clear the mind and calm mental chatter.
“As the bottle clears, so does the mind.”Nell Regan K.
Learn more about sensory bottles and how best to use them HERE–>DIY Calm Down Sensory Bottles 101. Or, look at the list of DIY sensory bottle tutorials below:
- Rainstick Musical Sensory Bottle DIY
- Glittering Mermaid Tail Sensory Bottle
- Ringer Game Sensory Bottle Toy
- Slow Falling Hearts Sensory Bottle
- Windy Fall Leaves Sensory Bottle
- DIY Butterfly Sensory Bottle Calm Down Jar
- Nature-Inspired Sensory Bottles
- DIY Sea Shells Sensory Bottle Calm Down Jar
- Rainbow Galaxy Sensory Bottle
- Frozen Inspired Snowstorm Sensory Bottle
- Sunburst Glitter Sensory Bottle
- Stars Sensory Bottle DIY
- Halloween Pumpkin Sensory Bottle
- Glow In The Dark Ghost Halloween Sensory Bottle
- DIY Glow In The Dark Rainbow Loom Band Sensory Bottle
16. designate a Calm Down Area to Cool Off and Reset
Having a designated calm-down area or corner, reset spot, or time-out bench or chair is another essential self-regulation strategy for kids.
So, create a safe, comfortable place in the home or classroom that children can retreat to whenever they need a moment to calm down.
If possible, create a space inside and outdoors, and allow the child to choose which calm-down area to use to reset themselves during moments of distress.
It can be a simple seat, or you can fill the space with pillows, stuffed animals, sensory play toys like modeling beeswax, sensory bottles (look at the list above) or fidget spinners, books about emotions and anger management, a weighted blanket, or anything else that helps your children calm down in moments of upset.
In our home, we use my daughter’s cozy corner, which she also uses as a reading nook. And when she’s having one of those moments, I calmly say, “It looks like you need a few minutes to reset yourself. Would you like to go to your cozy corner or outside?
She usually doesn’t answer and instead stomps off to her calm-down corner–or outside to cool off. But if she fights, I won’t argue with her or say anything in response except, “As I said, why don’t you take a moment to reset yourself.”
Once she does, I give her a few minutes to calm down before I go over to her and validate her feelings before I say anything else. (Scroll up to read #13 for more information about validating feelings.) Then, ask if she would like to talk about it or if she would prefer to be alone, and so on.
17. Offer Calm Down Tools and Sensory Play Toys
Another easy way to help children calm down when they become frustrated or upset is to give them calm-down tools and toys.
Sensory play toys such as fidget spinners, sensory bottles, zen gardens, and other calming toys for kids are a great way to help them calm down whenever they are upset or overwhelmed.
And once children are calm, most sensory toys make excellent tools to help kids focus their minds and learn to meditate. Below is a list of our favorite calm-down tools and calming toys.
DIY Calm Down Tools and Toys:
- DIY Sensory Bottles 101 – Here’s a post with everything you need to know about making and using calm-down sensory bottles, including a list of recipes you can use to make your own! Or, scroll up to see the list of DIY sensory bottle tutorials above.
- Winter Wonderland
- Fairy Garden
- Beach-Themed and Zen Table Top Fairy Garden Ideas
- DIY Waldorf Square Geometric Puzzle Blocks
- Tetris Puzzle Cube
Calm Down Toys and Tools You Can Buy:
If you click to purchase, Rhythms of Play will earn a small commission at no cost to you.
- Squeeze balls: try THESE or THESE
- Modeling beeswax
- Fidget spinner
- Fidget cube
- Metal fidget cube
- Simple wooden fidget cube
- Wooden twist cubes toy
- Squeeze pop ball fidget toy
- Arm slinky
18. Put together a Calm-Down Box
Once you have made or purchased a few calm-down toys from the lists above, create a calm-down box, bin, or shelf with a few of your children’s favorite calming toys inside or on top. Then place it near your calm-down area or someplace kids can easily access it whenever they need a little time to calm down or reset.
19. Help Children Develop Positive Self-Talk
Developing positive self-talk is challenging with the rise of screen time and social media use. But fortunately, one of the easiest ways to help our children speak positively to and about themselves is by modeling it ourselves.
So, please be mindful of what you say to yourself in front of your children. Their growing and maturing sense of self-esteem is easily bruised, and does not need to hear things like, “Ugh–I look fat in this,” or “I can’t do it.”
They will learn to speak negatively about themselves if all they hear is negativity. Monkey see–monkey does, monkey hears–monkey says. So do your best to keep your self-talk positive, become a verbal Jedi master, and I bet your children will learn to do the same.
And if you ever find yourself verbally abusing or shaming yourself or your children, do your best to immediately correct it with a positive statement or an apology if possible. We all make mistakes and fall, it’s how we get back up again that makes the difference in the eyes of our children.
Another great way to help kids develop positive self-talk is with positive affirmations and inspirational words and phrases. And there are several children’s books available that can help kids develop positive self-talk. We have a few of our favorites on the list below.
Books That Help Kids Develop Positive Self Talk
Use the growth mindset books for kids on the list below to help them develop positive self-talk. You might also enjoy this booklist filled with Children’s books that teach kids important life lessons.
- Positive Self-Talk for Kids
- I Can Do Hard Things
- Positive Ninja
- Talk Yourself Up, Wonder Pup
- Believing In Me
- Find Your Happy
- Positive Me
- I Am: Positive Self-Talk for Kids
20. Limit Screen Time
There are several reasons it’s better to keep kids away from excessive screen use (televisions, computers, tablets, and smartphones) even though their use is rising. And the ability to self-regulate is only one of them.
In THIS research study, high-screen users were found to show significantly poorer emotion regulation, impaired capacity to finish tasks, lower curiosity, lower self-control, higher anxiety, and depression symptoms.
The results showed that the child’s screen time at four years old was directly, positively, and significantly associated with dysregulation and negatively associated with mathematics and literacy grades at age eight.
In my experience as a parent and early childhood educator, watching violence on TV, playing video games, or sitting couped up in front of a screen for hours never helps anyone keep their cool in times of stress.
Instead, I have noticed–and I know I’m not alone–that increased screen use tends to exacerbate symptoms of stress and dysfunction at home and in the classroom. And I know I’m not alone.
How is screen time bad for kids?
A colleague I went to graduate school with named Nicholas Kardaras, wrote a book titled “Glow Kids” that examines how technology―more specifically, age-inappropriate screen tech, has profoundly affected the brains of an entire generation.
In it, he documents the growing mountain of clinical research that correlates screen time with disorders like ADHD, addiction, anxiety, depression, increased aggression, and even psychosis. And he wasn’t the first to document problems with technology and the growing minds of children.
In “Endangered Minds,” Dr. Jane M. Healy draws on neuropsychological research and analysis of educational practices to examine how television, video games, and other components of popular culture compromise our children’s ability to concentrate, absorb and analyze information.
And she has several more excellent books with similar information that I wholeheartedly recommend to any parent, teacher, or caregiver that wants to learn more about the detrimental effects of extended screen use and technology on children’s growing brains.
So, do your best to help kids find other ways to entertain themselves for their social-emotional health–and yours! My daughter and I love making arts and crafts and playing outdoors instead of watching television. Give it a try!
21. Zones of Regulation
The Zones of Regulation is a curriculum designed by Leah Kuypers to help students gain skills in consciously regulating their actions, leading to increased control and problem-solving abilities. Using a cognitive behavior approach, the curriculum’s learning activities are designed to help students recognize when they are in different states called “zones,” with each of the four zones represented by a different color.
The Zones of the Regulation curriculum is for anyone that works with students who struggle with self-regulation. This can include special education and regular education teachers, occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, psychologists, counselors, behaviorists, social workers, and parents. And there are posters and other tools you can use with the curriculum to help children learn to self-regulate.
22. Use Rewards, Positive Reinforcement, and Praise
Kids are more likely to repeat the behavior that caregivers reward, praise, or positively reinforce. So, when children demonstrate self-regulated behaviors–praise them verbally, or give them another appropriate reward to reinforce their behavior positively.
23. Be Consistent and Honor Your Word
There is nothing more off-putting and upsetting to most children (and adults) than rules that are randomly enforced, a structure that has permeable boundaries, and people that don’t mean what they say.
Rules that are not enforced are rarely followed, and when you don’t honor your word, how do you expect your children to? Even adults throw tantrums when faced with unpredictable circumstances and people with no integrity.
So, if you want your children to stay calm and honor your word, it’s important to create consistent boundaries. One of the ways we can create consistency in a child’s life is by enforcing rules that get broken–not pretending like it didn’t happen.
Another way to create consistency is to be true to your word–and do what you say you will. Children have a lot more respect for caregivers with integrity and find it a lot easier to self-regulate when their parents, teachers, and caregivers mean what they say and say what they mean.
In other words, if you promise that you will take your kid to the park on Saturday morning, it’s a good idea to follow through on that promise–unless you don’t want your children to honor your word in the future. Or, you prefer raising children that think it’s no big deal to break their promises. Remember, monkey-watch, monkey-learn, monkey-see, monkey-does.
24. Art Therapy
The American Art Therapy Association promotes engaging in the arts to help decrease feelings of anger, depression, and anxiety.
Often, we hold on to negative emotions such as fear and sadness that can cause stress and anxiety. However, research shows that art therapy can assist us in recognizing these difficult stuck emotions.
Once we become aware of these challenging feelings, art therapy can help us work through them, process them, and finally integrate them.
Art therapy can also help parents, teachers, and other caregivers gain insight into a child’s thoughts and feelings through their drawings and artistic creations.
Engaging in artistic endeavors has also been shown to enhance cognitive function, increase self-awareness, and help children (and adults) learn to regulate their emotions.
The National Endowment for the Arts found that arts programs help children develop social-emotional skills, including self-regulation, in early childhood. (source)
Children who regularly participate in the arts show more sophisticated social skills such as sharing, empathy, and cooperation. They also show reduced anxiety, shyness, and aggressive behavior.
Studies also show that creating art can stimulate the release of the feel-good neurotransmitter–dopamine.
Increased dopamine levels are helpful when anxiety is high, or depression brings you down. Because when dopamine is released, it stimulates the pleasure receptors in our brains, making us feel happier.
So, encourage children to create arts and crafts to help them feel good during times of overwhelm or stress, learn to self-regulate, and boost emotional intelligence.
25. Enjoy Gratitude Activities, Crafts, and Games
Believe it or not, grateful kids tend to be calm kids. When we feel thankful for what we have, it’s tough to feel upset about what we don’t have.
Gratitude brings abundance. When we are grateful, we receive more of the things we are thankful for and thus live a more joyful and fulfilled life.
So do yourself a favor. Invite children from toddlers to teens to try the fun gratitude activities, games, and books on the list below.
Gratitude Activities, Crafts, Games, and Books:
- “I Am Grateful” Gratitude Journal Printable
- Printable Gratitude Journal Prompts
- Fun Gratitude Activities, Crafts, and Games for Kids
Calming Strategies to Help Children Learn to Self Regulate
When children know how to self-regulate, they can appropriately manage their emotional reactions to life events and challenges. Self-regulation difficulties are more common among younger children and children with LD, ADHD, Autism, etc.
A lack of self-regulation skills can result in social-emotional, behavioral, and academic challenges. Learning how to cope and adapt is a brain-based social-emotional skill that develops in children with practice.
Children who can self-regulate are more likely to experience success. Punishment and medication may decrease challenging behavior at the moment but can not teach children the necessary skills to manage stress and learn to self-regulate over time.
Help children calm down when they feel upset, frustrated, angry, anxious, sad, fearful, or overwhelmed with this list of self-regulation strategies and social-emotional learning resources for kids.
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