5 calming strategies for young children

The ability to control our own emotions is something we continue to develop throughout our lives. Head of Junior School, Jess Richards, discusses the importance of developing these skills in the early years and provides five strategies parents can use to help young children calm themselves.

Last year, our Eblana Junior School students immersed themselves in a wholistic Mindfulness program under the guidance of Angela Chaousis from Be You Living. Students were introduced to meditation, breath awareness, mind-body connection, engaging the senses and creating meaningful relationships.

The practice of mindfulness teaches children how to have more control of their emotions and their minds, enhancing their ability to learn at school, regulate their behaviours and develop healthy social relationships. 

Learning to regulate emotions during times of stress can be difficult. Most children have some natural ways of self-regulating, but they also need to learn how to respond to others and work through the stress or frustration that they are experiencing to feel good again.

At Mentone Grammar, we employ calming strategies which compliment our RULER emotional literacy program. Students follow simple routines such as the one below;

When I am feeling frustrated or stressed I can sit in a chair. Next, I need to fold my hands in my lap and take 5 deep breaths. After that, I will count to 10 in a calm voice. I will drink some water to cool down and then return to work.

The below five calming strategies are also great ways to help children settle themselves so they can move past problems, relax and regain their sense of control.

1. Mindfulness Jars

A 'calm down' or mindfulness jar is a tool used to help children settle their emotions and regain focus. Children are encouraged to shake the jar and imagine their head full of whirling thoughts, watching the glitter slowly settle while they calm down. Mindfulness jars provide a healthy and effective way for children to soothe themselves, take deep breaths and work through their emotions. These jars provide a constructive alternative to a traditional time-out and encourage the child to refocus their energy. You can make one of these at home using the instructions below: 

Make your own Mindfulness Jar 

 2. The Grounding Technique

The grounding technique takes children through the five senses to help remind them of the present. Ask the child to take a deep belly breath to begin and take them slowly through the below process.

5 – LOOK: Look around for 5 things that you can see, and say them out loud. For example, you could say, 'I see a book….'

4 - FEEL: Pay attention to your body and think of 4 things that you can feel, and say them out loud. For example, you could say, 'I feel my feet warm in my socks, I feel the hair on the back of my neck and I feel the pillow I am sitting on.'

3 - LISTEN: Listen for 3 sounds. It could be the sound of traffic outside, the sound of typing or the sound of your tummy rumbling. Say these three things out loud.

2 - SMELL: Say two things you can smell. If you’re allowed to, it’s okay to move to another spot and sniff something. If you can’t smell anything at the moment or you can’t move, then name your 2 favourite smells.

1 - TASTE: Say one thing you can taste. It may be the toothpaste from brushing your teeth, or a mint from after lunch. If you can’t taste anything, then say your favorite thing to taste.

Take another deep belly breath to end.

3. Tense and Relax

The tense and relax technique allows children to express their frustration and learn to let it go. Children are asked to form their hands into fists and bring their shoulders to their ears. They then count to five and relax. Repeat this five times. If you have a prop such as a 'squishy stress ball' this can also help.

4. Balloon Breathing 

Ask your child to close their eyes and picture themselves blowing up a balloon. First, they should choose the colour for their balloon. Second, explain to them that blowing too hard or too fast will cause the balloon to pop right out of their mouth. To inflate the balloon, they needs to inhale and exhale slowly. Ask them to breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four and exhale into their balloon for a count of four. Repeat this three times. Finally, ask them to picture themselves writing one worry on their imaginary balloon and letting it fly off into the sky.

5. Write it Down and Throw it Away

Kids need time to express their feelings, but they also need to learn how to get their anxious thoughts out on their own. They need strategies they can use not just at school but anywhere they may experience strong emotions. Writing down anxious feelings is a great way to vent those negative emotions. Encourage your child to write down or draw their anxious thoughts and then tear them up and throw them away. The process of turning their thoughts into a physical thing that is outside of their body and then tearing it up and throwing it away is a very powerful release.

It is perfectly normal for children to go through phases in their lives when they struggle to deal with and express their emotions. Families, schools and friends form a valuable support network to help them to learn strategies that we all use everyday to communicate, control and conquer their emotions.  

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