Helping Children Learn to Calm and Soothe Themselves

by Kathleen Cuneo, Ph.D.

Right now we are in the midst of painting and reorganizing my eight-year-old's bedroom. In going through the process of sorting through all her stuff and deciding what to keep, give away, and throw away, I have had many memories from some of her earlier days. One corner of her room in particular stands out to me.

A "Calming Down" Corner

not too happyWhen she was in preschool we had set up a "calming down" corner in her room. We used it as a place for her to go and center and reorganize herself when she was starting to get upset -- but before she got too upset. I put her bean bag chair in this corner and then she selected quiet activities that she enjoyed and that made her "feel better" to include in the corner.

She chose some puzzles, a magnetic dress up game, books, and paper and writing materials. She hasn't used this corner in quite a while, and in fact when I was just asking her about it, she doesn't really remember how she used it.

But I remember it as an effective strategy for her to calm herself and she usually came out of that space happier. To this day, she has an amazing ability to entertain herself and find ways to make herself happy, which usually involve music or reading.

It took me until the third child to come up with this strategy of trying to anticipate her distress and give her some tools to know that she had some control over how she handled her mood. I'm not sure that this specific technique would have worked with my oldest two given their different temperaments, but it would have been worth a try.

Creating an Individualized Spot for Your Child

playing aloneHelping your child learn to calm themselves requires an awareness on your part as their parent of what works for them. That being said, know that nothing will work all the time. And it's good to have multiple strategies in your toolbox.

Observe patterns in what seems to work for your individual child. Does physical activity help your child organize themselves? Some kids are more relaxed after having exerted themselves physically while others may become more wound up. Does music help calm your child? Do fine motor activities help them focus and calm or get them upset and frustrated? Do artistic activities help them express themselves?

Can you tell in advance when they might be heading towards a meltdown? Recognizing your child's strengths, weaknesses, and preferences can help you to help them develop plans for dealing with strong emotions and stress. As their language skills and ability to make connections develop, talking about your observations with them will be providing them with their own tools for the future.

What successes have you had in teaching your children to calm and soothe themselves?

Kathleen Cuneo, Ph.D. is a psychologist, parent coach, and mom. Her mission is to empower parents to find their own parenting voice and develop strong connections with their children. Her free report, "30 Things You Can Do To Raise Self-Confident, Compassionate Children," is available at her site. Dr. Cuneo is also the director of Dinner Together, LLC. Her free e-newsletter offers consultation to families seeking to have more frequent, successful family meals and deal with the challenges of picky eaters.

Copyright © Kathleen Cuneo. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC. Photo credits: Patti Marcotte and Olgysha Photography.