This is for anyone who cares for a child who can be anxious and stressed under certain situations. I have compiled a list of “calm-down” strategies to help bring a child back to a calmer, more relaxed state of mind. Many of these strategies have been very helpful and have shown positive results. Please just keep in mind that every child is unique and what may work for one child, may not work for another. Also, a certain strategy that works for a child one day, may not work for that same child the next day. However, here’s your list of refreshing ideas and ways to help make the day a little easier and shift a child to a happier place. Don’t forget to share this post if you know someone who could benefit from the information listed below! Easing a child’s body and mind into a more comfortable state is a great way to make a positive difference in the life of our children.
1. Create a quiet “calm down area” for your child to decompress and relax in. You can take a play tent and stuff it with blankets, comforters, pillows, stuffed animals, etc. and allow your child to dive in there and snuggle. The deep pressure is very relaxing and soothing for children.
2. Go to a quiet place. Simply removing your child from a busy area with lots of auditory and visual sensory stimuli can help relax your child. Children can become overstimulated when they are in the midst of lots of sensory information (loud noises, lots of visual activity and movement, etc.). Leaving the “busy-ness” momentarily can help.
3. Listen to music. You can give your child headphones (not earbuds) and allow him/ her to listen to a relaxation CD with soothing sounds on it. Or, any kind of music that is calming and relaxing to listen to. If you’re able to, you can even go outside and listen to nature sounds. Listen for the birds, insects, frogs, the “swoosh” of the wind.
4. Keep a photo album of family and loved ones nearby to look through as a calming strategy.
5. Deep breathing. Deep breathing is a skill that needs to be taught and must be practiced. One way to do this is to have a child lay down and place a small stuffed animal on their belly and see how the animal rises and falls with each breath. For children who have difficulty following verbal directions, deep breathing can be initiated in other ways. You can have your child blow a pinwheel to watch it spin, blow bubbles, or have a “race” to see who can blow a cotton ball or pom-pom off a table first.
6. Engage in any type of physical exercise. This stimulates the release of those feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. If it’s summer, go to the playground, go swimming, ride a bike, jump on a trampoline. If it’s winter, play in or shovel snow!
7. Provide deep pressure input. Have your child lay down on their stomach on a soft surface on the floor and roll a large exercise ball over his/ her body. The idea is to press down with the ball, using firm, even pressure. This will gently compress your child and give organizing deep pressure sensory input to the body. Just be careful to listen to your child for when he/she has had enough and to not press down TOO hard (and never roll the ball over a child’s head.)
8. Drink water and make sure your child is always hydrated. Brain tissue is 85% water! When your body is dehydrated, it doesn’t function properly and it can cause muscles to tense up, affect hormone balance and exacerbate anxiety symptoms. If your child doesn’t like drinking water, you can change the drinking experience to make it more “fun.” Let your child drink water through a crazy straw, or put it in a “fancy” cup with a little drink umbrella and colored ice cubes in it (ice cubes made out of juice). You can put a lemon wedge, a slice of orange, or a little juice in it the water to give it some flavor. Still struggling? Feed your child water-rich foods such as fruit and watermelon. Homemade juice popsicles or smoothies can keep your child hydrated.
9. ORAL WORK can provide calming and organizing sensory input! Have your child drink through something that provides a little bit of resistance such as a water bottle with a bite-valve (Camelbak makes a great kids’ water-bottle with a bite valve straw). Other options are drinking thick liquids through a straw (such as a smoothie) or snacking on crunchy/ chewy foods such as crunchy cereal, pretzels, raw veggies, or all-natural fruit leather.
10. Roll your child in a blanket. Wrapping snugly in a blanket or even in a tube of stretchy fabric mimics the feelings of security of being swaddled as an infant. It can provide quick relief from anxiety and stress.
11. Draw a picture. Children are able to express themselves through art in times of high emotion to help relieve some stress and get to the root of their feelings. If your child is not on the level of being able to communicate their feelings through drawings, provide him/ her with some drawing utensils such as crayons, markers or finger-paint. Even just simple scribbling and making marks on the paper can be incredibly therapeutic.
12. Hum a song. Humming is more calming than singing because of the vibrations produced.
13. Go out in nature. Playing outdoors and spending time outside in the sun and fresh air is one of the most relaxing and grounding things a person can do. It’s like a “reset button” for our bodies and minds. Have your child walk barefoot in the grass, breathe in the fresh air, feel the sun. Get away from the wifi, tv screens, cell phones and electronics and schedule relaxing activities outdoors. We need to take the time to get close to nature after being disconnected from it for most of the day.
14. Imagine a safe place. Imagination is a very powerful tool. Have your child imagine a safe place they can go to.
15. Ask for a hug. Teach your child that it’s okay to ask for a hug when he/she needs to be comforted. Sometimes a firm hug and verbally acknowledging their feelings can be extremely comforting.
16. Count slowly. This can be combined with breathing techniques to make it even more effective
17. Whisper a “story” about a happy, positive memory your child has. This can be something fun your child did recently or a favorite place your child really loves. Reciting something familiar and comforting in story form is a good anxiety reducing technique because it brings them to a “happy place” immediately. Whispering it helps them to focus on something other than their negative emotions in the moment.
18. Squeeze a stress ball or use a mini massager (your child can ask you to massage his/ her back or neck with this)
19. Place a drop of lavender essential oil on a cotton ball and let your child inhale. Or, for a more “fun” and kid-friendly approach, you can make lavender scented play-dough in a purple color (for a recipe, check Pinterest)
20. Use items with calming, visual information. A kaleidoscope, liquid visual timer, fish tank, watching the clouds, and a lava lamp all can be very soothing to watch.
Author: Christina, OTR/L & Owner of Sensory TheraPLAY Box, LLC (the sensory toy subscription box)
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