Children of all ages can get stressed, frustrated, irritable and upset, and when this happens it can be very difficult as a parent to know how best to help them.
Whether you have a teenager who is struggling to cope with their emotions, or a threenager who is throwing their toys about the room, knowing how to restore calm and confidence in your child can be a daunting task.
The following 50 calm-down ideas range from energetic activities to breathing exercises, and the activity you choose will vary depending on your child and their unique situation.
1. Count To 5
This first exercise is a timeless classic, which has been practiced in classrooms for decades. The act of slowly counting to five (together if it helps), gives your child a chance to catch their breath and stops their emotions from snowballing.
Anger deflates when the initial impulse is put on pause, and more rational thoughts have a chance to surface.
2. Count Backwards From 100
If counting to five is too quick and easy for your child, then challenging them to count down from 100 is a great development of the same idea. The exercise is not so difficult as to be frustrating, but requires a certain amount of rational thinking to be achieved.
Once again, performing the activity together will stop your child from feeling punished and make it seem like a game rather than a test.
3. Take Some Deep Breaths
Deep breathing has been scientifically proven to lessen anxiety and panicked thoughts. Getting some oxygen in through the nose, and expelling CO2 slowly out through the mouth will help loosen tension in your child’s muscles as well as in their mind.
In many cases, just three deep breaths will be sufficient to calm your child. Doing more is a great way of helping your child get to sleep.
4. Blow Out Imaginary (Or Real) Candles
Try holding out an imaginary birthday cake, and describing the icing and decorations, then ask your child to shut their eyes and blow out all the candles.
They must take a deep breath first, and they mustn’t forget to make a wish! If this game doesn’t capture your child’s imagination, you could always try lighting a real candle and asking them to blow out the flame.
The deep inhale and exhale will calm their breathing, and the exercise will be a welcome distraction from whatever it is that has been bothering them.
5. Blow Bubbles
In a similar way, blowing bubbles is a very effective way of getting your child to take some much needed deep breaths without them realising they are doing it. The bubbles will feel like a special treat rather than a punishment, and they will have great fun bursting them as a bonus.
6. Shake A Snow Globe
Having a beautiful snow globe at hand is a really great way to draw your child’s attention away from their negative thoughts and towards more happy, carefree thoughts.
You can ask them to tell you what they can see inside the globe, and you can let them shake it to let off some pent up energy at the same time.
7. Spin A Pinwheel
A good, old fashioned pinwheel, decorated in pretty colors, is another great accessory to have at hand. If your child is crying and becoming distressed, try asking them to blow on the pinwheel and watch it spin.
The blur of colors is mesmerizing and calming, and the act of blowing out will slow your child’s breath and stop them from hyperventilating.
8. Squish Some Putty
If your child is more of a physical being, it may be tricky to get them to stand still and breathe, so grabbing some play putty is a brilliant alternative.
Just like the foam stress relievers we have on our desks, play putty can help your child to release their tension in a safe way. Let them squelch and stretch the putty for as long as they like, and watch the upset fade away.
9. Knead Some Dough
Of course, for older kids and teenagers, getting them to play with putty will seem childish and uncool, but allowing them to knead dough in the kitchen will have just as calming an effect.
If you sense their frustration building, try saying “here, help me with this” and let them slap and stretch the dough on the countertop to their heart’s content.
They will feel like they are being practically useful, and you will all have a lovely loaf of bread to enjoy at the end of it.
10. Paint A Picture
Expressing yourself through art is a proven way of releasing emotion, and allowing your child to use their body and their creativity to paint a picture is a brilliant way to distract and calm them.
There is a certain level of consideration and repetition required in painting that can be very centering, and you can reward your child with praise for their artwork as they do it, which will fill them with positive feelings and thoughts.
11. Create A Moodboard
With older kids you can take the idea of artistic therapy one step further by encouraging them to make a moodboard. Using any magazines and newspapers you may have lying around, as well as paints and any other mixed media they can find, challenge them to create a collage that captures the way they feel.
The most important part of this activity is asking them to explain the moodboard to you once it is finished. This will get your child talking about their feelings, and help them to articulate what it is that has been bothering them.
12. Create A Vision Wall
If your child responds well to artistic activities they might like to create a vision wall in their bedroom. Giving them the license to tack pictures, posters, clippings and notes on their vision wall will make your child feel a great sense of independence and liberation, and it will provide a long term, calming task that they can keep going back to whenever they feel worried or angry.
If you encourage them to add inspirational quotes and positive affirmations to their wall, these will gradually sink into their psyche as well.
13. Write A Letter To ‘Best Friend’
Asking your child to pen a letter to their best friend is a brilliant way of showing them how they should speak to and feel about themselves.
The wonderful things they write about their friend can be read aloud straight back to them, and they will see that they should be as kind and generous to themselves as they are to others.
Try explaining to them: ‘Would you tell your best friend that they are stupid, or ugly?… Then you shouldn’t tell yourself those things’. This is a great way of helping them to develop a more positive relationship with themselves.
14. Write a journal
Buying your child a lovely new notebook in which they can keep a journal will make them feel special and loved, and will encourage them to express their feelings each night before they go to bed.
If your child struggles with knowing where to start you could always try giving them simple writing prompts like: write 3 things that you did well at today…, write 3 things you laughed about today…, name 3 people who were kind to you today… etc
15. Talk About It
Very often, there really is nothing better than talking something through. If your child is acting out or becoming anxious and jittery, then sitting them down and asking them what is wrong is sometimes the simplest and most effective way to calm them down.
And if they don’t feel comfortable talking to you about it, there are always school counselors and local professionals who your child could benefit from speaking to. Afterall, a problem shared is a problem halved.
16. Sip A Cool Drink Through A Straw
Encouraging your child to sip a cold drink through a straw when they are upset will help to slow their breathing and give them some refreshing hydration which will help them cool down.
The straw will ensure that they don’t guzzle their drink but rather take it in a more considered way, and if it is a fun swirly straw then all the better!
17. Have A warming drink
We all know there is nothing better than a warm beverage to soothe the mind. Making your child a delicious hot chocolate or caramel latte could be just the treat they need to settle their worries.
Blowing on a hot drink will control their breathing if it has become erratic, and sipping the drink slowly will cause them to sit still for a moment and stop worrying about whatever it is that has caused them concern.
18. Take A Walk Around The Block
Putting your shoes on and going for a brisk walk around the block is a great idea if you want to help your child clear their head. Taking long, energetic strides can be tension relieving and the exercise will also release endorphins into the bloodstream which will lift their mood.
If you have a young child, you could always pop them in the pushchair and take them around the block that way instead. The fresh air and change of scenery will have just as much of a calming effect.
19. Take In Some Nature
If your child is anxious and worried about something, then taking a gentle stroll amongst nature is a good way to make them feel calm and grounded.
Sea air, rolling hills, or even just the trees in the local park, can all be beautiful natural areas that will help to ease your child’s mind. The healing power of nature is never to be underestimated.
20. Listen To The Room
If you don’t have the opportunity to go to a place of natural beauty, then asking your child to stop and listen to the room around them is a great alternative exercise. There may be a clock ticking, a boiler humming, people chattering, or birds singing outside.
Whatever the soundscape, ask your child to close their eyes and then gently talk them through it. Try saying: ‘listen to the cars, gently passing by. Listen to the dog, barking for his dinner. What else can we hear? Etc
21. Listen To Calming Music
The calming effect of classical music is well documented, and even if you think that your child will not appreciate it or think it is ‘uncool’, when they hear the first few chords of a beautiful piece of Chopin or Beethoven you may be surprised how affected they are.
Young children can be instantly mesmerized by calming classical music, and older children will also respond in the most amazing way.
22. Boogie To Upbeat Music
If your child needs to let off steam rather than be lulled, dancing to some happy, ubeat and funky tunes might be just the answer. Playing the music nice and loud so that they feel surrounded, protected and infected by it is always a top tip. And you must dance too, so that they know what to do!
23. Sing A Song
The power of song can be incredibly healing, and as well as the tune and lyrics have a calming effect, singing also requires a certain amount of breath control which can be very helpful in slowing your child’s breathing down.
Having a favorite song that you both know the lyrics to will make this exercise all the more enjoyable due to the sense of security and familiarity it will bring.
24. Primal Yell
Of course, having a good old shout can be incredibly tension relieving, and giving your child the permission to yell as loudly as they want will make them feel liberated and empowered.
Tell them to stand with their feet wide apart and their arms spread wide, and watch them let go of their inhibitions and frustrations in one giant yell. Just remember to warn the neighbors beforehand!
25. Laugh It Out
Just as yelling and crying are brilliant natural methods of letting off steam, laughing is a wonderful stress reliever. Try tickling your child under the armpits or wherever they are ticklish to start the laughter flowing, and you should try laughing with them because laughter is infectious.
The endorphins will soon start bumping around their body, and the brain will release serotonin as well, which will help to boost their mood and ease their woes.
26. Go For A Run
Exercise is a well known way of getting the body to release serotonin, and going for a run with your child can be a great way of getting them to burn off some bad energy and replace it with some happy hormones.
Not only will the activity get you both out into the fresh air, it will also tire your child out which will help them sleep better if they are struggling in that area too.
27. Go For A Bike Ride
Bike rides are another wonderful form of gentle exercise that will get your child out of the house, and out of their negative mindset. It is quite miraculous what a simple change of scenery, mixed with some fresh breeze and a healthy heart rate can do to dispel anxiety and anger.
28. Stand on one leg
It may sound strange, but challenging your little one to stand on one leg when they are feeling angry, can really help to refocus their thoughts in a more calm direction. In order to achieve the balance needed to perform the task they will have to let go of whatever they are angry about and concentrate on their body weight and breathing instead. They will also feel a sense of pride and positivity when they achieve the task.
29. Touch Your Toes
Inverted postures are great for getting the blood flowing in a healthy way around the body and slowing the heart rate down.
If your child is panicked and stressed, telling them to first reach for the sky and then bend forward and touch their toes, will not only distract them but will also physically lower their stress levels. You can make them laugh by trying to do it yourself too!
30. Do Some Yoga
Downward facing dog pose is just one yoga position that is known to slow your heart rate and relieve stress. Putting on some calming music and going through a few simple postures with your child is a great practice to get into first thing in the morning, or before bedtime. It can improve coordination, flexibility, concentration and calmness.
31. Have A Bear Hug
There is nothing like human touch for making us feel loved and appreciated, and the value of a hug should never be underestimated. If your child is acting up and behaving badly, giving them a hug may be the last thing you feel like doing, but it could be exactly what they need.
The release of oxytocin occurs in the bloodstream when we share a hug for 20 seconds or more, and this hormone promotes good feelings, energy and calmness. So sit your little one on your lap and hold them close – you will feel the benefits too!
A really great way to calm your child down is to play the blinking game (or the NO blinking game, as it should be known). Ask your child to sit or stand opposite you, as close as they like, and even hold your hands if possible.
Then ask them to stare into your eyes and try not to blink. The first person to blink loses, and you can play a best of 3 to be sure. This game creates time for your child to stop and gather themselves, and the eye contact you give them will be reassuring and calming. It is also a lot of fun!
33. Do Some Coloring
Coloring can be a hugely mindful exercise that gives your child time and space to be quiet and methodical when they may otherwise be feeling chaotic and confused.
Having a favorite coloring book on hand, filled with pictures that you know they’ll love, can be a great resource to have up your sleeve. It will also help to develop their creativity and motor skills as a bonus.
34. Plan Something Fun For The Future
Kids often feel worried or frustrated if they have upcoming tests or events that are causing them anxiety. You can help them get through these worries by planning happy and exciting things that you will do together afterwards.
Writing those things on a calendar will help to make them feel real, and each time your child worries about their school concert you can remind them of the pizza evening you are going to enjoy afterwards.
35. Look At Some Fish
Dentist surgeries and doctors waiting rooms have fish tanks for a reason… because they are incredibly calming to watch. If your child is stressed or anxious try looking at some beautiful fish swimming in a tank and their worries will melt away.
36. Stroke A Pet
In a similar way, encouraging your child to help you stroke a pet dog or cat (or other furry friend) can be a great way of helping them to slow their breathing and center themselves.
Dogs are particularly intuitive and can often sense when their owners are sad or upset, so creating a meaningful bond between your child and their pet can be great for their mental wellness.
37. Swing Your Arms
Buddhist monks practice arm swinging every morning before prayer as a way of calming the body and finding inner peace and rhythm. Try asking your child to gently bob their knees and swing their arms back and forth in a rhythmic way and you will be amazed at how calming the effect can be.
38. Press Against A Wall
If your child is particularly angry and upset then letting them push as hard as they can against a wall is a great exercise. The transference of energy feels really satisfying and yet there is no danger of anyone getting hurt or injured.
After they have pushed with both hands against the wall, you could get them to press their shoulder into the wall as an alternative version. Both will feel satisfying and will defuse the acute anger they are feeling.
39. Pop Bubble Wrap
For little children (and some older kids too) popping the individual bubbles on bubble wrap can be therapeutic and calming. The process is satisfying and methodical and is an effective way of getting your kid to take a timeout without them realising they are doing so.
40. Crush Crinkly Tissue
Babies absolutely love to scrunch and crunch crinkly tissue because of the texture and sound. Having a few sheets on hand is always a good idea because you can delight your child with the brightly colored paper as soon as you detect them becoming crotchety. This will distract them before their bad mood has a chance to develop into a tantrum.
41. Hair Brushing
This activity will not suit all kids, but some absolutely love the feel of having their hair brushed and it can be a very comforting and calming thing to do when you see them becoming upset.
For those who don’t enjoy having their hair brushed, you could always let them brush your hair. The quiet and methodical action is great for creating some timeout.
42. Tennis Ball Massage
Rolling a tennis ball gently up and down your child’s back is a brilliant way to give them a light massage. The sensation is wonderful and will release endorphins in the body, and you will also help to loosen any tense muscles at the same time. The best way is to ask them to lie on their stomachs whilst you do it.
43. Roll A Golf Ball Under Foot
If the tennis ball massage goes down well, you could also try giving your child a golf ball foot massage. The feet are an energy center on the body, and gently rolling a golf ball across the soles will help to relieve tension all over your child’s body. It is also a really good way of relieving headaches.
44. Go To A Designated ‘Quiet Space’
Creating a designated ‘quiet space’ at home where your child can go to take some timeout is an effective way of helping them to learn how to cope with their own stress levels and moods. Try to make the space as cosy and comfy as possible so that it doesn’t feel like a punishment but a treat to spend time there.
45. Point To Your Emotion
Very often, children become most frustrated when they cannot articulate their feelings. This can be because they are too young, have linguistic difficulties, or simply lack the emotional vocabulary and insight.
Creating a colorful and easy to understand emotion chart can alleviate much of this frustration because you can ask your child to point to the image that most relates to the way they are feeling. In return you will feel better able to help and comfort them.
46. Have A Warm Bath
There really is nothing like a warm bath to help soothe the mind and body. Running a lovely bath with bubbles for your child could be just what they need if they are feeling upset and angry.
47. Take A Cool Shower
By contrast, a cold shower can be a great way for teenagers and older children to cool off. Cold showers are refreshing and invigorating and, despite popular belief, actually result in feelings of positivity rather than negativity.
48. Jump On A Trampoline
Bouncing on a trampoline in the garden can be an excellent activity for kids who are acting up or feeling very sad. The combination of physical exercise, fun and fresh air is a winning one, and it is very difficult to bounce on a trampoline without getting a smile on your face.
49. Touch Your Nose
If your child is spiralling into anger or upset, try looking them in the eyes and asking them: ‘where is my nose?’ and ‘where are my ears?’ etc. The act of pointing to or touching your facial features (or their own) will calm your little one and give them a great sense of achievement when they get it right.
50. Say Positive Affirmations Or Mantras Aloud
And lastly, the power of words can be incredible. Encouraging your child to repeat positive affirmations and mantras will both empower and inspire them.
Sayings as simple as: ‘Everything is absolutely fine’, and ‘I am loved’ can have a transformative effect on a child’s outlook when spoken aloud together.
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