Learning to regulate our emotional responses, especially during times of stress, can be difficult. Most children have some natural ways of self-regulating but may also need to learn appropriate ways to respond when experiencing anxiety. Calming strategies can help a child to work through strong emotions. When calming strategies are practiced regularly throughout the day, the possibility for use at times of anxiety is increased.
Breathing exercises can help to remind your child to stop and count out deep breaths when they are upset.
You can also use visuals as a non-verbal reminder, posting them in a quiet area or where the exercise is most likely to be practiced.
Blowing Out Birthday Candles – Have your child hold up one hand; their fingers are the “candles”. Count out the five “candles” together. Then blow out each “candle” with a long breath. Curl your finger down slowly while you are blowing.
Blowing up Balloons – Pretend to pull a balloon out of your pocket and encourage your child to do the same. Cup your hands together and hold them in front of your mouth. Take a deep breath and as you exhale slowly expand your hands as if inflating a balloon. When you are finished take a deep breath and slowly close your hands back together as you exhale to “deflate the balloon”. Repeat this five times.
Grounding techniques can help kids identify negative thought patterns in order to self-regulate during stressful situations.
ABC Around the Room: Look for things starting with each letter of the alphabet, can go as long as they want.
Favourite Colour: Have your child pick a colour and name everything in the room that is that colour.
5 things you see
4 things you hear
3 things you smell
2 things you can touch
1 thing you taste
5 colours I see
4 shapes I see
3 soft things I see
2 people I see
1 book I see
Visualization & Imagery
Visualization and imagery are
techniques that focus on encouraging a child to focus on a happy thought, memory, or story to take their mind off worrying as they breathe.
Let your child use their imagination to go to a place that makes them feel calm and secure!
Have them sit or stand in a position that is comfortable for them, close their eyes and imagine whatever they would like!
If your child finds this challenging, or you would like to use guided visualization, there are full scripts for multiple visualization options can be found at: https://connectability.ca/category/kids/
You can read through the script to your child as they have their eyes closed and imagine they are in a new, more calming space!
Having your child move their bodies in different ways may help relieve stress and tension to achieve a feeling of calmness.
Sticky Hands – Pretend to have “sticky” hands and then press them together. Now push hard for 20 seconds. Now tell your child to slowly allow their hands to come apart and see if they can feel the stickiness. Repeat this sequence two or three times.
Stretching – Have your child do simple stretches such as touching their toes and reaching up to the sky on their tip toes. Have your child lie on their backs and make letters with their bodies. Try “X” (spread out their legs and arms) and “T”, (put their legs together while keeping their arms stretched out). Be creative and add your own! Remember to move slowly from stretch to stretch.
Tense and Relax – Have your child form their hands into fists and bring their shoulders to their ears. Count to five and then relax. Repeat five times. Try using props such as “squeeze balls” to help exaggerate the motion. If comfortable, have your child tense up into a small ball and squeeze for the count of 5 and then relax.
Copy a Friend – Have one child be the leader and one child be the follower, acting as a mirror to their friend.
Changing their Environment
A soothing environment can be good for both the child and the caregiver! Consider how your surroundings may increase or decrease stress.
Noise level – is your area particularly noisy, or are there any unpleasant sounds? Consider using headphones, or moving locations.
Brightness – is your area particularly bright or colourful? Does your child have any challenges with particularly harsh visual information?
Position – is your child in a comfortable position that supports their access to the activity?
Other sensory considerations – any smells or cues that may be adding stress to your child’s experience in that moment? How you can modify the environment to reduce the exposure?
Trying out different ways to hold or carry your infant may help to find a position that is most comforting or soothing for them during development.
How positioning can help:
- Increases the child’s awareness of their body
- Encourages the child to learn how to calm themselves down
- Helps with the development of vision and hearing
The basic principles of positioning:
Try to use slow, gentle movements whenever positioning the baby.
- Try to keep the baby’s arms and legs close to their body. This will help them feel stable and in control.
- Try to use positions that encourage: bringing their arms and legs closer to their body, hands near their mouth, both sides of their body in the same position, and have them looking downwards.
- Encourage the baby to lie on their tummy or side.
Imaginative or Creative Thinking
Creative or imaginative thinking can help your child better understand stressful situations and practice solutions.
Personal Stories – Describe a situation in detail with a focus on important social information such as what others might think, feel or do to show how to cope with it. They are effective teaching tools as they can be personalized to a child or group.
Story Books – Story books that highlight social situations can be used to promote conversation, understanding of emotions and empathy. It’s a great way for the child to identify with characters in stressful situations and to understand how they cope.
Role Play – Gives children an opportunity to explore a situation, concept or social skill through play and to find different ways to handle stressful situations. The experience can be enhanced by using puppets, dress-up, or toys.
Problem Solving/Brainstorming – Talking about concerns in a group of peers can provide opportunities for a child to express ideas, ask questions and arrive at possible solutions in a safe environment. It’s a great way for a child to learn from and to build positive relationships with their peers. The caregiver’s role is to establish a warm and supportive environment for this process and to emphasize the importance of listening.
Mindfulness encourages a child to guide their attention to the present moment using various strategies.
Walking Meditation – Using the feelings in the feet and legs as meditation objects while walking. This is a good strategy if a child is restless or anxious to sit still.
Mindful of Sound – Focusing your attention on different sounds as they happen. This is a good strategy if a child is easily distracted by their inner thoughts and feelings.
Body Scan – Explore feelings in different parts of the body. This is a good strategy for children who need an alternative to focusing on their breath.
Calm, Headspace, ReachOut WorryTime, Stop Breath & Think
Positive self-talk may help to increase your child’s self esteem and, therefore, the ability to manage their anxiety.
“I Can” Flower – Start by handing out paper flower petals to the child. In the center of the circle put the core of the flower with the words “I Can” on it. Have the child say something they can do, write it on their petal and then have them add it to the flower. You can adapt this activity by using photos or providing examples. To expand the activity, try using different themes, such as “I can” to help at home, “I can” with my friends.
“I Can” Project – Give the child a personal box and allow them to identify a goal they would like to work on. If needed, goals can be broken down into smaller steps. As the child practices the steps, help acknowledge their achievement by writing it down on a small piece of paper and then put the paper into their box. For example, a child is working on snipping with scissors. At each step of learning the task write down the success, such as “I can cut on the line,” and help them put it into their box.
Tips on Setting up a Calming Routine
Setting up a calming routine is a shared process involving the child and caregivers!
Here are the first things to consider:
- Take an inventory of the calming strategies your child is already using and together select the ones that work well.
- Start with strategies that are familiar to your child and are appropriate for their developmental level. This may help build on their existing resources and increase the likelihood of success.
- Once your child is familiar with practicing the strategies, together you can introduce new ones.
- Collectively choose the best times for your children to practice these activities. Calming strategies are best introduced during the least stressful times.
- Try to make the activities fun by including props and visuals, such as pillows, squeeze balls, and pictures or other objects that the child enjoys.
Remember to practice self-compassion! These calming strategies will take some time to fit into your daily life.