6 Calm-Down Strategies for Kids That Really Work

These simple calming activities work wonders when kids are upset.

Published March 15, 2023
Mother consoling her child

Everyday anxiety and stress don't just affect adults, but kids and toddlers too. It can be challenging to know what to do when our children can't seem to self-soothe after they get upset, but there are some easy and effective calm-down strategies for kids you can try. Help kids regain their composure and feel more in control with these simple activities.

Effective Calm-Down Strategies for Kids

As you scour the internet, you'll find hundreds of techniques and activities for calming your kids. The problem is that telling your toddler or young child to "breathe" or "meditate" probably won't work until they reach a more mature point in life. Depending on their sensory threshold, tight hugs and music may also upset them more.

In many situations, you can help calm your kids by doing these three things:

  • Remove the trigger
  • Help them feel heard
  • Use a movement to redirect their attention

While the first step is pretty self-explanatory, knowing how to make these two other things happen can be a little more difficult. These parent-approved methods can help. Try these simple calming techniques and activities for kids to help get them back to their usual happy selves.

Implement Active Listening

This calming strategy for kids just takes a few steps.

1. Once you've either removed the trigger or moved your child to a different location, you need to let them know you recognize they're upset. Thus, get on your knees to position yourself at their eye level. Make direct eye contact, acknowledge their feelings, and inquire about the issue.

"I understand you are upset, and that makes me sad. What is making you feel this way? Are you mad that ________ happened?"

Quick Tip

If they're blubbering away, take the time to do some rainbow breathing. Don't ask them to join in, just do the breathing techniques yourself. Children are notorious for mimicking behaviors. Just seeing you engaging in this calming technique will help them to start breathing slowly as well.

2. Once they've regained some composure, acknowledge their feelings and ask them about the reason behind their outburst again. Then, let them fully explain their sentiments. Nod and maintain eye contact throughout the exchange.

3. When they've completed their thought, give a constructive solution or a choice. For example, if they want a cookie before dinner, which is obviously not going to happen, provide a solution that appeases both of you.

"I understand that you want a cookie, but we can't have sweets until after dinner. If you're hungry, you can have a cheese stick or some sweet Greek yogurt instead. Which would you prefer?"

This lets them know that they have been heard, it gives them some power in the situation, and it solves their problem of being hungry.

Play an Animal Game

Little girl climbing on rocks

Calming activities for kids can bring in some fun while relieving the tension. Almost everyone remembers doing a crab walk, frog hops, donkey kicks, and bear crawls as a kid. Why does this memory stick in our minds vividly, but somersaults and cartwheels seem to be a distant idea?

One reason is that these seemingly silly movements are proven calming techniques. Author and autism advocate Dyan Robeson explains: "Animal walks help kids receive calming deep pressure to their joints and limbs, help strengthen their sense of balance, and develop body awareness."

When your little one is upset, try asking them what animal they feel like in that moment. Are they mad like a roaring bear? Are they frustrated like a donkey? Are they unhappy like a crab who can only move side to side and not forward? Have them imitate these movements. This calming strategy distracts their mind from the problem at hand and focuses it on an activity that they can control.

Let Them Fidget

Keeping a child's hands busy also stimulates their mind. According to information from Flushing Hospital Medical Center, fidget toys help kids and adults with "releasing restless energy." Science supports the idea that these toys help with calming, focus, and even listening skills. This makes them a fantastic tool for calming an upset child.

Best of all, these calming toys for kids have become quite popular in recent years, making them conveniently available in most locations. Having a busy bag filled with these sensory toys can be a great calming activity for kids and can quickly remedy a frustrating scenario.

Focus Their Energy on Their Hands

Did you know that deep pressure therapy is another proven method for decreasing anxiety and tension? Unfortunately, hugging is not always welcomed in moments of stress, but if the person applies the pressure themselves, it can have the same beneficial effect.

When your child is upset or anxious, redirect their distress and frustration into their hands. We love these simple calming exercises for kids:

  • Fist Squeeze: Ask your child to squeeze their left fist as hard as they can, then release and repeat. While it may seem silly, this specific action actually controls withdrawal emotions, like anxiety and fear.
  • Palm Push: Have your child put their palms together, as if they were praying, and push together as hard as they can. Hold this position for 10 seconds, release, and repeat. Putting pressure on certain spots of the palm of a person's hand can also reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Pressure Point: The union valley point, the pressure point within the space between the thumb and the index finger, is an acupuncture point that is used to reduce stress. Simply have your child firmly pinch the webbing with their alternate hand for ten seconds.

Get Some Sun

Sunshine is a natural stress reducer. If your child is having a meltdown, get them outside and into some fresh air. To get the most out of this simple calming exercise, find green or blue spaces - parks, lakes, oceans, forests, or gardens.

Better yet, go for a walk or jog through these spaces. The combination of sunshine and exercise will lessen stress, improve mood, and even enhance their interactions with others.

Shrink Their Space

Little girl reading book in her room

The world can be a big and overwhelming place for. Sometimes kids just need a calm place to retreat that feels like their own. A calming tent is a spectacular tool for removing the various stimuli that cause sensory issues. Your goal: to make it comfortable, cozy, and safe. This means buying a tent, a cushion for the base (like a dog bed), and a few pillows.

Once it's set up, let them know that this is their space to retreat when they feel anxious, stressed, or sad. Parents can make the space more welcoming by cozying up for bedtime stories in the tent. However, since it is their safe space, always ask to enter. This can help them feel secure in the spot. Then, when stressful moments arise, ask your child if they want to take a break in their calming tent.

Quick Tip

If you don't have space for a tent, parents can also have their child lie in the center of a small but sturdy blanket. Each parent will hold tightly onto two corners. They will then swing their child back and forth. This is a great calming activity for kids that's actually used for children with special needs.

Try Different Calming Techniques for Kids to Find What Works

Every person in this world is unique. What this means is that what one person finds calming may stimulate another. If one of these calm-down strategies for kids doesn't work, try another. Experiment until you find what is best for your child. Also, remember it's important to first remove your child from the situation that triggered their outburst before trying to calm them down.

Just like you need a quiet space to learn to read or solve equations, children have to learn how to self regulate their emotions before they can overcome them in a moment of stress. Finally, remember that every experience your child has is new to them. They're trying to understand the cause and effect of different scenarios, and that also takes time. Be patient with them and know that they will get there in their own time.

6 Calm-Down Strategies for Kids That Really Work