This post was written in collaboration with Tranquility brand weighted blankets, however, all opinions are my own.
While I think we can all agree that being an adult comes with its fair share of stressors, it can be easy to forget that being a young child can be stressful at times too. Not only are they learning about the world for the first time, but simultaneously how to navigate their growing bodies, emotions and more. Not to mention, they are doing all of this with both limited communication and coping skills. These factors combined can feel frustrating and overwhelming for little ones, at times, in turn, leading them to feel and react in ways that are seemingly “out-of-control”. But, the good news is, there are a lot of strategies out there that we can begin to teach kids, even at a young age, to help them navigate this “out-of-control” feeling when it does arise and promote calm for all involved much more readily.
Why teach calming strategies?
Now before we chat strategies that promote calm, let’s talk about why this is important. I am going to use my dog as an example to illustrate this point. I promise it will all come full circle, so stick with me. I don’t know if anyone else has an anxious pet, but ours often ramps up when are getting ready to leave the house. She spins circles, barks, jumps etc. until we have left. That said, our dog is fairly well-trained and can listen to commands when calm. But in this state of anxiety, it doesn’t matter how many key words we use, she is in such a tizzy that her little brain just cannot process it until she has calmed down again.
As parents, we often have a tendency to want “problem solve” or talk through feelings and actions with our child the moment an issue arises . However, during a tantrum, meltdown or time when a child is experiencing a high amount of anxiety is not the time to do this. Just like my dog, their little bodies are literally in fight-or-flight mode in these moments, often unable to reason or process effectively. Thus, it is imperative that before we dive into connecting with our child, that we provide them with tools and strategies to calm their bodies and begin to self-sooth, so that we can bring them back into a space where we can safely and effectively move forward.
What are some effective calming strategies?
The following are some of my favorite calming strategies that I have used in both the classroom and with my own child. Please note, that just like anything with young children, these strategies must be taught. I would encourage you to introduce them slowly to your child when they are calm, so that they can more readily access and use them in a time of need. Not all strategies will be best suited for all children. Experiment with them alongside your child to figure out what works best for them.
Bear Hug: Not only can the warm embrace of a loved one be incredibly soothing when a child is feeling overwhelmed, but deep pressure input, in itself, can have a calming and organizing effect on the body and sensory systems. A hug is always an option in our home. However, if kids prefer to not be touched by others, teaching them to give themselves a giant bear hug or even hugging a stuffed animal nice and tight can have a similar effect.
Weighted Blanket: Speaking of deep pressure, having a weighted blanket on hand can also give little bodies similar input. The nice part about these is that they provide gentle, distributed pressure across the whole body. And not only are they a great tool to have on hand during the day, but can have the same calming effect on your little one’s body at night helping them more readily fall and remain asleep.
Weighted blankets come in different sizes. So when choosing one, you will want to look for a weight that is roughly 10% of your child’s body weight plus 1-2 pounds. If your child weighs roughly 40 pounds, a 6 pound blanket may be a good size to start with. Asher has a Tranquility brand weighted blanket, and I couldn’t be more pleased with it. As a mom, I appreciate that it not only comes in a size that is appropriate for him, but thus far has proven to be both high-quality and affordable. Not to mention, because it is available both online and in store at Walmart, it makes it more accessible for most families as well.
Safe Place: Creating a cozy space in your home where your child knows they can go when needed can be a wonderful way to foster calm. In our home, we use a tent in our living room for this purpose filled with pillows, books, Asher’s Tranquility brand weighted blanket etc. Some days I will catch Asher utilizing it for the sheer purpose of kicking back to read a book, but others it is his go-to safe haven when he is feeling overwhelmed. I often find that once he comes out, he is much more readily able to move forward or problem solve as needed.
You do not need to have a tent likes ours to create a safe space for your child. It could be anything from a comfy chair to a cozy corner in their room. Just ensure, wherever it is, they are aware that it is there for them when needed.
Calming Music: Music can have a profound effect on both emotions and the body. In particular, soothing sounds and classical music have been shown to potentially slow pulse and heart rate as well as decrease stress hormones. Having a pair of headphones ready for your little one to slip on with these relaxing rhythms can be a great way to help them calm down. This is also one of my go-to strategies for the car, when many of the others are not an option.
Deep Breathing: When our bodies are stressed or anxious, our heart rate increases, and our breathing often becomes more shallow. Just think back to the last time your little one had a tantrum or meltdown, and you can probably remember those “gasping” for air sounds that often follow. Thus, teaching kids deep breathing techniques can be a great way to calm their bodies more quickly.
One of my favorite deep breathing techniques for kids is “blow out the candles”. Begin with either you or your child holding up five fingers. Then, encourage your child to take 5 deep breaths, and blow out each “candle”, lowering a corresponding finger for each one.
Diffusing or Rolling on Essential Oils: The calming aromas and effects of many essential oils can support children in relaxing their bodies. Some of my favorites for this purpose are lavender, cedarwood, roman chamomile, vetiver, and citrus oils like orange and tangerine. While using essential oils can be incredibly powerful tool in your “calming toolkit”, I always encourage parents to ensure you properly read labels and sufficiently dilute oils before applying them to children.
Calm Down Kit: This was something I always had on hand as a classroom teacher, but that can be equally as beneficial in your home. For this one, you will want to gather a variety of “tools” that your little one can select from to help promote calm. Think things like lavender scented play dough, bubbles, a “calm down jar” filled with water and glitter, a stress ball, a book, etc. You can really cater what you put into the kit to your child. Once you have all items ready, place them into bin or basket and store it in a place that can be easily accessed when needed.
How do you encourage children to use Calming Strategies?
As your child becomes more and more familiar with these strategies, I would begin to encourage them to make their own choices in how they prefer to calm down. Making a simple chart, like the one pictured below, with some of the options you’ve worked on together can be a great visual for them to use when needed. When you see your child ramping up, it is a tool you can take out to give them some voice and choice in supporting their bodies.
A tool like this also requires the use of very little words, which we already know we want to use sparingly until a child is calm. They can simply point to the strategy they’d like to try, and you can support them in carrying it out as needed. With time, the hope is that children become more readily able to take on their own self-soothing.
Having an understanding of how to calm their bodies is a skill our children can take with them throughout their lifetime. Even as adults, we run into many instances where stress, anxiety or emotions take hold. And whether an individual is two or sixty-two these same strategies (deep breathing, a hug, a Tranquility brand weight blanket, etc.) can be equally as beneficial.