Healthy Choices: Learning to Calm Down

Michelle McNally
April 2, 2014

It doesn't take much for young children to become overstimulated. A change in diet, a night or two of restless sleep, or the prospect of seeing well-loved family members can send a child into a frenzy. If the weather is frigid, you're in the car, or you're out in public, how can you help your child calm down? 


Going for a walk down the hall or otherwise changing the scenery is a good technique to help your child bring it down a notch. Don't make it a punishment, just redirect your child's energy to walking down a hall or to another part of the house. Giving that energy and restlessness a purpose can also go a long way into soothing him back into himself. Doing jumping jacks, climbing the stairs, running a lap around a house, or stomping feet for a few seconds can also have therapeutic effects.

Watch Things Float

There are all kinds of water-based toys on the market, snow globes, or jars your can make yourself that provide a way to calm down. Shaking a jar with glitter or other objects and watching them float is relaxing to most people, and children will become transfixed. Shaking the snow globe, and then challenging your child to be still until the glitter settles is a way to focus his attention on it.   

Items for Manipulating

Squeeze balls and koosh balls can also bring a child to calm. Simply squeezing them and manipulating them can release stress. Hugging a favorite stuffed animal can also have the same effect.

Modeling clay or dough can serve a similar purpose if it's available. Rolling dough, pounding it, and rolling it back up is a purposeful movement that refocuses energy.

Coloring or Painting

Coloring intricate mandalas may soothe an older child, scribbling with crayons or finger painting may center a younger travel. If your child likes to draw, be prepared when you are out by stashing a Doodle Pro or something like it in your car.   

Engaging the Sense of Smell

Aromatherapy is another way to help your child calm himself down. Smelling a good smelling (unlit) candle or sachet (think calm scents like lavender) can calm even the most upset, or at least help him focus on deep breaths. If you're both having a "moment" take a minute to light a scented candle and watch the flame as you sit together (never leave a child unattended with a lit candle). 

Soothing Music

In the car, nothing is better than calm music playing through the speakers. It could be instrumental music arranged for children, or it could be a children's singer with a soft voice (look for albums marketed for bedtime). If the music soothed your child as an infant, it's likely to have a similar effect now that he's older. If you're leaving someplace with a child having a tantrum, put on the music as you drive away. It should soothe his mood (and yours).  

Audio books are also soothing to many children. Maybe it's the professional story teller, maybe it's the repetition of hearing their favorite story over and over again, but audio books are a sure winner. Play them in the car or at home. Some children may also like to have a pair of headphones to listen by themselves.  

The key to any of these activities is to help your child recognize when he might "need" them. If your child has hit a rough patch where he needs to calm down several times a week or even in one day, present various options before he needs them. In a calm moment, let him know that when he's feeling upset or out of control, he can do a few of the ideas listed above. Again, it's important not to present these things as a punishment, but just as a way to start feeling better.  By modeling stress-relieving activities yourself- using a stress ball or doing a set of jumping jacks in the middle of a busy day, you're modeling that it's okay to being overwhelmed and it's okay to take a break. And that's a healthy life choice everyone needs to learn. 

From the Parents

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