You are here because you want twenty-nine amazing calm-down tools you can use with your children when they get a little crazy. These are my absolute FAVORITES, and I use them daily with my children. I've spentyears trying different strategies and tips and spending countless hours revising, testing, changing, and...
This is THE number one thing any person can do to calm themselves down.
Breathing has a direct connection with the part of the arousal center of the brain. It's the "in" to calm. Here are some super fun and simple breathing techniques for kids. Telling your kids to "breathe" may not actually get them to breathe especially when they're out of control and since the best language to speak to kids is through play, marrying the two can result in successful de-escalation.
Rainbow Breathing | Draw a rainbow (better yet, if your child isn’t fully disconnected, have him or her do it) and have them trace their finger along each line. Breath in across the whole rainbow and breathe out going in the opposite direction.
Birthday Cake Breathing | What has worked for my kids is to tell them to breathe in the birthday cake, hold in the breath as they put up the candles on their hand, "1, 2, 3, 4, 5" then blow those candles out as hard as they can.
Blow Bubbles | This works especially well with younger children. Give the child a bottle of bubbles and let them work on that long exhale as they blow. If you are indoors and don't want your child to blow bubbles, hand him or her a pinwheel.
Volcano Breath | I like this visualization because it combines breathing with being physical and a little humor. Have your child crouch down to the ground and take a deep breath in. Then, tell them to explode up in the air with hands above the head exhaling as if lava was flowing out of their head.
Use an App | Download an app like Breathe Kids. This particular app has different missions based on how the child is feeling. It can aid in getting their breathing under control.
Hoberman Sphere® | We got one of these one time at a light show and I didn’t really know what it was until I was researching for this post! It’s a toy that expands and contracts. It’s a great tool for kids to use for breathwork since it’s physical.
Square Breathing | Have the child “draw” a square on his or her leg with a finger. The square guides the breathing like this: breathe in - finger goes up, hold breathe - finger goes to the right, blow out the air, the finger goes down, and hold once more - finger goes to the left. This can be done by tracing a triangle as well.
Straw Breathing | The child puts a straw in his or her mouth then breathes slowly in and out. Better yet, have the child both something across the table like a piece of paper or feather.
Whale Blow-Hole Breaths | Pretend to be a whale with a massive blow hole! The child sits criss-cross applesauce, takes a deep breath in, tilts his or her head, then imagines blowing the air out of the imaginary blow hole on top of the head.
Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes | This song works great for breath work! Take it slowly though. Breathe in and out with each body part. To end, kids can put their hands on their shoulders and focus on moving the belly only while keeping the shoulders very still.
Don’t forget to prioritize
When kids create, their prefrontal cortex can come online. Specifically, their right brain comes online which is where intuition and daydreaming come from. In fact, there’s something called art therapy that exists because it scientifically can help reduce stress levels.
Many of these tools are good to use after the child is starting to regulate on his or her own but maybe not! I encourage you to try it out!
Make a "Mad Box" | Create a box filled with sensory toys, wiki sticks, playdough, crayons, paint, paper, a bubble timer, bubble wrap, etc. This is a great thing to hand over to your kid and walk away to give them needed space.
Draw Out The Feelings | On a piece of paper, tell the child to simply "draw what you feel." They may just scribble and you know what, that’s totally okay! Or they may surprise you by drawing a whole scene that can help you understand their inner world and feelings.
Draw Geometric Symbols | Drawing repeated patterns like symmetrical snowflakes or mandalas can help calm the nervous system and help with self-regulation!
Sing or Make Up A Song | Not only does making up a song get the creative juices flowing, but singing also triggers the vagus nerve! This nerve runs throughout our body and helps the body to rest and digest. Encourage funny sounds in the song! The sillier the noises the child can create using the back of the throat, the better. I encourage you to join in the fun as well because it can prevent their amygdala from hijacking yours! Make sure you are still attuning though because sometimes I tend to poke my older boys’ lizard (ha!) when I sing or they just become annoyed which defeats the purpose.
Paint | Visual arts have been linked to resilience to stress and this will give your child a mental distraction from the big feelings. If handing over paint to your kids causes you to stress (!), give them a can of shaving cream so they can "paint" with that. There's always the option to send them outside to paint! Heck, you can even give your kids a spray bottle of water to spray and create scenes on the sidewalk outside.
Modeling Clay | We have found this really cool air dry clay online that provides quite the sensory experience which is a great way to help kids calm down! It’s very soft. Sometimes my kids just rip and pull it apart and other times they start to make little animals or people.
Creative Writing | This may be a tool to use after the storm but it can help kids to self-express and learn what to do with all those huge feelings swirling around inside of themselves.
Make Nature Art | Nature is incredibly calming! Run outside and grab some leaves, sticks, or rocks and hand them to your child to create something.
Dance | This is a perfect segue to the next category because it’s both creative and physical. This is one of my go-to calm-down tools. The brain requires movement, and we just aren’t getting enough of it. Dancing is the perfect solution. Also… According to this study, it’s more beneficial if you move synchronously with another person, so get moving with your kiddo or encourage multiple kids to do the same moves at the same time!
Run, jump, or get moving in a physical way | It's not uncommon for us to send our kids outside to run up and down the sidewalk. I'm not sure what our neighbors think, but it's one of our best tools when meltdowns happen. Or if you have steps, use them! Help your child get his or her body MOVING!
Tear Up Paper | Hand your enraged child a piece of paper letting them tear away. When we use this tool for our six-year-old, we ask him if he can tear it into a certain amount of pieces. It's usually 50-75. By the time he gets to about 30, the big emotions are almost completely gone... like magic!
Splash Cold Water | I don't know a ton about it but this is something else that can trigger that vagus nerve. There are a lot of ways to utilize cold water. The child can put a wet washcloth on their neck, run their hands under cold water, and visualize the anger running off of their face and down the drain, or even splash the water on their face.
Freeze an Object | You can let the child take an object or a crumpled piece of paper and have them put it in the freezer. Tell them it's their anger that needs to be cooled down. This is another visualization that can aid the child to figure out what to do with the emotion. It’s also cold, and as I mentioned that can trigger the vagus nerve.
Shake Shake Shake | Tell your child to shake his or her hands a certain amount of times. Get the blood flowing to the hands. This is a go-to calming tool in our house because it can be done anywhere!
Flip upside down | Inversions like headstands or downward dog have a restorative effect on the autonomic nervous system which controls the body's response to stress. This one triggers the vestibular system. Your child can also do something simple as bend over and touch their toes for 15 seconds.
Watch a Fish Swim | Watching fish swim reduces blood pressure and heart rate. We used to have two little tanks with one Beta each, but the research says, the bigger the tank the better. If your kids have been begging you for a pet, this one will have multiple benefits!
Count | There's a reason anesthesiologists have patients count down from 100 while administering medicine. It's a great way to shift focus. Counting offers a concentration task without overwhelming the brain. You can also have your child close his or eyes and count to five. This short meditation gives your child the ability to think before they act.
Glitter Jars | Have a few glitter jars on hand for your child to shake and watch during a meltdown.
Tell a Joke | Getting kids to laugh is a great way to help them to calm down. You can tell a joke, do something silly, or go into pretend-mode. Humor IS the best medicine. A word of caution is this could cause more of a meltdown, but I usually stick with it for a while and it eventually works especially with my kindergartener.
The Calm After The Storm
As mentioned above, the worst time to talk to a child or try to explain what you want from them is while their emotions are heightened. Wait until the child is calm and the prefrontal cortex is connected and online. This may be within minutes or with my kids, since they are neurodivergent, it sometimes takes a few hours before I can talk about it.
A bug and a wish | This is a tool Dr. Wendy Young teaches. Help your kid communicate when others are bothering them, "It bugs me when you ______________. I wish that you would _______________. We have been using this one for years! It’s a great way to help kids express their anger or frustration using words!
Get your child to tell you how you can help | As I mentioned above, make sure they know you are on their side. You are there to do what is necessary to help them calm down. We may not always have the time to get on their level but in whatever capacity you can, being there for your child is what counts.
Ask your child, "Where was the anger?" | Help the child locate where the big feeling was. For some, it may be in their hands which typically are the kids who hit. For others, it may be in their head or mouths which caused them to scream. Tell them where you often feel your anger to show empathy and relatability.
That's All There Is To It
Right?! Please hear my sarcasm.
I have learned from a ton of experience that when we, the adults, connect first and give kids the tools they need, the hard work pays off. I hear parents saying they don't have time to do all of this. My answer is you don't have time not to. Once we give our kids the skills they need to emotionally regulate, they won't need us as much. Make that your goal!
What strategies do you use?
We would love to hear from you! Do you have an emotional child? Angry child? What kinds of strategies or techniques have you found that work? Let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Printable - here’s the printable I have; it doesn’t have ALL the tools as my original post only had 19 but I wanted to fatten this one up a little and make it different from my own.