24 CALM DOWN ACTIVITIES TO HELP YOUR CHILD REGULATE EMOTIONS AND REDUCE TEMPER TANTRUMS

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24 CALM DOWN ACTIVITIES TO HELP YOUR CHILD REGULATE EMOTIONS AND REDUCE TEMPER TANTRUMS
Our brain has lots of different modes that help to govern the way we think and behave. The majority of the time our brains will be in thinking mode and in which we are usually in a state of calm and we are able to rationalise. However, when danger is detected your brain will send the energy it normally uses for thinking mode to kick into instinctual mode instead. This causes all rationale and thought processing to temporarily go ‘offline’ – it doesn’t matter if you can speak 5 languages or recite Pie if you are in danger!
Instinctual mode is a healthy and important function of the brain for many reasons, but sometimes it will start up when there is no danger detected. Heightened emotions in children, for example, can cause it to activate. Sometimes our instinctual mode can become so overwhelmed it can cause panic attacks. This is why teaching children calming strategies are really important so that when a child is feeling overwhelmed they are able to shift back into thinking mode and regulate their emotions. 
We often tell children to calm down yet we are not born with the skills to be able to naturally calm down and regulate our emotions. This is something we have to learn and even as adults we sometimes get it wrong! There are many activities and techniques that your child can do to help them calm down and regulate their emotions. Typically activities are categorised into 4 groups
  • Relational Regulation Techniques
  • Physical Regulation Techniques 
  • Cognitive Regulation Techniques 
  • Sensory Regulation Techniques
You should try and scaffold learning around these 4 groups when your child is feeling calm and in thinking mode so they will engage with the activity. 
RELATIONAL REGULATION TECHNIQUES
When babies are born they are completely reliant on others to co-regulate and meet their needs. Babies need caregivers to feed them when they are hungry, help them sleep when they are tired and give cuddles when they are overwhelmed. This need for co-regulation declines with age but despite this decline at some point in life we ALL need co-regulation and support. So it is important that a child is able to approach the adults in their life and their peers, with any feeling they have. This is  so they are able to signal distress and seek reassurance or guidance from others. Without relational regulation thoughts and feelings can often be internalised and manifest in other ways - like defiance, stubbornness or disengagement. Here are 6 relational calm down activities that your child can try. 
RECEIVE A HUG FROM SOMEONE YOU LOVE
Receiving a hug - or cwtch as we say in Wales - is a soothing action that helps to produce oxytocin, a naturally occurring feel-good hormone in your body that helps to reduce stress. When your child is dysregulated offering them a hug will teach them that you are there to support them during tough times. Tell your child that you are going to explore the power of a cuddle. Encourage them to notice how they are feeling prior to receiving a hug - give them a hug and then discuss whether they feel calmer, safer and more relaxed after it. Try it with all your family members to find out who  gives the best hugs in your family! 
ASK AN ADULT HAVE YOU FELT LIKE THIS BEFORE. 
No feeling is a bad feeling and we should encourage open dialogue around all feelings, including uncomfortable ones. Sit down with your child and write down a list of emotions both comfortable and uncomfortable ones. Take turns to both discuss a time you have felt either of these.  Your child will feel reassured to hear that you have also felt angry, sad or scared in the past as well so make sure you draw upon your own experiences to help sooth your child.
PHONE A FRIEND FOR ADVICE
Sometimes talking to friends in confidence about things helps to get things in perspective and can help you feel supported. Talking on a telephone can be much easier than talking directly and face to face with someone.  Sit down with your child and encourage your child to draw around their hand. Ask your child to think of a friend that they trust who they feel would help them if they were feeling upset or if you had a problem. - Try and fill each finger with a friend’s name and phone number. Keep the picture as a visual reminder for when they feel dysregulated. 
ASK SOMEONE WHO KNOWS YOU TO NAME YOUR STRENGTHS 
Sometimes it can be hard to notice our own strengths and qualities, especially during challenging times. Encourage your child to ask someone they know to list their top strengths and qualities. Write these down so that when your child is feeling dysregulated they can act as a visual reminder and  foundation for positive self talk. 
PLAY A GAME WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Play is powerful! It releases serotonin, the chemical used to regulate mood. Playing with friends can offer a distraction, boost self esteem and encourage a sense of identity. Encourage your child to notice their feelings before they engage in a playful social activity and then again at the end of the activity.
WRITE A LETTER TO SOMEONE
Lots of people find it easier to write down their thoughts and feelings instead of talking about them. Encourage your child to think of a situation that caused them to feel big emotions but in that moment they couldn't find the words to talk to someone about these strong feelings. Now ask them to write a letter to someone they would like to share these feelings with. Give your child the option to rip the letter up at the end instead of posting it.  If your child cannot think of someone they could write to, encourage them to write a story instead about what happened but with a new ending. 
PHYSICAL REGULATION TECHNIQUES
Movement is one of the best ways to help you calm down and regulate emotions. When you feel dysregulated your muscles respond to your feelings without you knowing it. Movement helps to reduce tension in your muscles and improves mood through the release of endorphins, the natural feel good chemical that we have in our bodies. Here are 6 physical regulation activities that you can try with your child. 
USE A ROCKING CHAIR OR SWING
There is a good reason why we instinctively rock babies when they are upset or tired. The repetitive nature of rocking helps to soothe our brain. Explain to your child that you are going to explore the benefits of rocking and encourage them to notice their feelings before they engage in the rocking activity. Set a timer for 2 minutes and encourage your child to rock slowly focusing on their breathing as they do so. After two minutes encourage your child to notice any differences in their mood. If you do not have a rocking chair then a  swing or exercise ball is just as effective! 
WALK UP AND DOWN STAIRS
Just 5 minutes of walking up and down the stairs helps you focus and releases endorphins which helps to improve your mood. Slow exercise also helps to burn additional blood glucose that is made available when the body's instinctual mode is activated. Set a timer for 5 minutes and encourage your child to slowly walk up and down the stairs focussing on their mood before and after the activity.
TENNIS BALL MASSAGE
A tennis ball massage is an old physiotherapy trick that helps to reduce tension and stress. Simply roll a tennis ball on your child’s back and shoulders giving them a gentle massage. This will help to reset your child’s muscles. Afterwards ask your child if they feel more relaxed and if they notice that tension in the muscles has decreased.
BIRTHDAY CAKE  BREATHING
Regulating your breathing when you are dysregulated has an instant effect because it disengages the instinctual mode, regulates your heartbeat and reduces muscle tension.  Encourage your child to imagine they have a big birthday cake in front of them with 10 candles. Ask them to breathe in to smell the cake, Then breathe out slowly to blow out a candle. Repeat this 10 times until all the candles are blown out. Encourage your child to draw a picture of their cake which they can use as a visual reminder when they feel dysregulated. 
DO A HANDSTAND OR HEADSTAND
Inversion is a proven technique that slows down the body’s response to stress. By hanging upside down your chest fully opens which allows energy to flow freely from your heart to your head. Encourage your child to relax their Chest – Arms – Legs – Mouth. Once you have finished ask your child if their muscles feel less tense.
COGNITIVE REGULATION ACTIVITIES
Focusing on a single cognitive activity helps to reframe thoughts and feelings, deactivating instinctive mode. It also helps to delay behaviour giving your child time to take consequences into account if they are angry, or to rationalise their fear if they are scared. Here are 6 cognitive calm down activities that you can try with your child. 
DRAW OR COLOUR
Drawing and colouring are immersive activities that allow us to express ourselves. Some people believe that creative activities like colouring elicit a relaxing mindset, similar to what you would achieve through meditation. Set a timer for 3 minutes and encourage your child to spend this time not talking or doing anything. Afterwards set another timer for 3 minutes and encourage your child to colour or draw during this time.  When the timer has rung ask your child if the 3 minutes colouring went faster than the 3 minutes where they were not doing anything. 
TIMES YOU HAVE COPED BEFORE LIST
Encourage your child to think about all the things they have overcome so far and write them down in a list. Use this as a visual reminder so that when your child is having a bad day or is feeling overwhelmed it will remind them of what they have achieved.
VISUALISE YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE
Research has shown that visualization helps to reduce stress levels and ground us. Ask your child to close their eyes and picture their favourite place. Then gently guide them to slowly start to build up a picture of how it looks, smells, and feels to be there. Encourage your child to draw a picture of their favourite place and use it as a visual reminder when they are feeling dysregulated.
 
TEACH YOU SELF A MAGIC TRICK
Learning a new hobby is the perfect cognitive distraction. Encourage your child to learn a magic trick that they can practice when they are feeling overwhelmed. Try the disappearing coin trick with your child. 
  • Hold up the arm vertically bent at the elbow like waving a ‘hello’
  • Place the coin into the sleeve carefully so that it sits right at the elbow
  • You need to practice dropping your hand in a way that the coin slides out of the sleeves and you can catch it
  • Tell the audience that you can make a coin magically appear in your palm
  • Show them your empty palm first
  • Use your free hand to do some magic movements to distract others
  • As you do or say any magical term drop your palm down facing backward and the coin will slip out of the sleeve right into the palm
  • Quickly grab it and show everyone the coin that appeared magically

 

THINK OF YOUR FAVOURITE BIRTHDAY OR CHRISTMAS. 
A positive frame of mind is so important to help foster resilience.  Thinking positively when feeling overwhelmed helps to reactivate thinking mode. Encourage your child to draw a picture of their favourite birthday or Christmas and use it as a visual reminder when they are feeling dysregulated.
                                      
LEARN ORIGAMI
Origami is another great hobby that is a perfect cognitive distraction. There are many variations that you can try. and some great tutorials on youtube that are easy to follow. One of the most popular designs for origami is a crane which represents good luck. There's a legend that says that if you make a thousand origami cranes you'll receive whatever you most want.
SENSORY REGULATION ACTIVITIES 
Sensory activities are often referred to as the gateway to self-regulation for many children. This is because engaging in activities that promote the use of our senses - touch, smell, taste, sight and sound - can be very soothing and creates a feeling of calm. Generally speaking the more senses you can include the better. Here are 6 activities that promote emotional regulation. 
USE SCENTED PLAYDOUGH
Scent has a big influence on our emotions because the brain's olfactory centre overlaps with the area of our brain that controls feelings. There are a range of scents suitable for children that help promote relaxation. Some of my favourite scents include lavender and citrus. We have MohDoh available in our store which combines essential oils that are released when the dough is moulded and played with.
LIGHT A SCENTED CANDLE
Focusing on other senses such as smell and sight helps to shift a child’s emotions away from a wound up state. Light a scented candle for your child and encourage them to watch it flickering (make sure this is supervised). Encourage your child to focus in on the smell that the candle is emitting and the shadows that it creates. Afterwards, explore whether your child feels more relaxed. 
COUNTING WITH YOUR SENSES
This technique is a great distraction by encouraging children to zone in on their 5 senses, helping remind them of the present moment rather than focusing on angry or anxious thoughts. Encourage your child to take a moment to think of 
  • 4 things around you that they can see 
  • 3 things around they can hear
  • 2 things around they can touch
  •  1 thing around you can smell
PLAY WITH DIFFERENT TEXTURES 
The experience of touching and manipulating different textures is extremely therapeutic and releases serotonin, the endorphin used to regulate mood helping to soothe and relax. There are so many different textures and you can add calming scents for added therapeutic benefits. You could add dried lavender to rice, use lemon scented washing up liquid foam, add mint to spaghetti or use orange flavoured jelly. One of my favourite things to do has to be adding essential oils to a bowl of water with water beads (Orbeez). 
BUBBLE WRAP STOMP PAINTING
Popping bubble wrap sheets can help you work off some of your nervous energy so you feel less stressed. I always encourage children to pop bubble wrap with their feet because placing pressure on certain areas of the feet can stimulate the nerves which sends a message to your brain that you can relax - this is why reflexology is so popular! A really fun way of teaching this activity to your child is by doing stomp painting;  simply wrap your child’s feet in bubble wrap, pour some paint onto paper plates, place some paper on the floor and then let your child stomp around on the paper, popping the bubble wrap and painting a design onto the paper at the same time. 
USE A STRESS BALL
Squeezing a stress ball sends soothing signals to the anxious part of a child’s brain. If you don’t have a stress ball you can fill an old sock with something soft. You could use bubble wrap, foam packaging, a sponge, cotton wool. After your child uses a stress ball explore whether they feel more relaxed.

All these activities are available to download in the FREE resource library along with a table for your child to score each activity. Simply print the document, cut out the calm down cards, laminate them and then encourage your child to refer to the cards when they are feeling overwhelmed or dysregulated. You can download it here.

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  • Caroline Elder
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  • Alexie Schmidt
    Alexie Schmidt

    Est et et aut delectus enim fuga perspiciatis vitae. Qui saepe porro ut est ut.

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