Self-regulating activities are so important for kids. If you are here, you are either trying to help a child self-regulate or you want to learn more about it.
I’ll do my best to help you understand self-regulation and how you can use these activities to help your child.
When kids seem “out of control” emotionally or even physically, they are in need of self-regulation or calming activities/tools.
Their body can’t auto-regulate therefore we need to help them calm down. Just think of a baby who is sucking their thumb – they are soothing themselves therefore self-regulating.
Self-Regulating Activities for Preschoolers
1 – Yoga
Downward dog is a good yoga pose for your child to do when they are dysregulated. The simple effect of having their head hanging down can calm them in a matter of minutes.
I would often hold my toddler upside down in my arms and it would have an instant calming effect.
See this video with great examples.
2 – Jenga
The well-known game of Jenga is a great calming game as they need to move very slow and be patient. They also have to wait patiently for their turn, really pay attention to what’s going on & study the tower to see which block should be removed next.
3 – Breathing Techniques
Teaching kids how to breathe is a great exercise that can be done anywhere with little to no supply.
The best part is that once kids recognize how good it feels to do these breathing exercises, they can easily do them anywhere anytime! These breathing techniques are fun too.
4 – Listening to Music
Listening to music can be very calming for kids. Adults often use this to regulate themselves without even knowing! Try some instrumental music or even some high-energy music if they need to shake it out.
5 – Sensory Bins
Sensory bins are so popular with kids. This may be one of the biggest reasons why- they are soothing. You can use water, sand, beans, water beads, and more. I love how versatile they can be.
6 – Blowing Bubbles
Blowing bubbles can also be used as a breathing technique. The act of blowing and the visual effect of seeing bubbles can be very calming for a child.
7 – Calm Down Jars
As the name says, these jars can be really effective at calming your child. Whether it’s glitter or some color mixing, calm down jars are easy to make.
8 – Guided Meditation
You can find some awesome guided meditations on Youtube designed for kids.
9 – Scavenger Hunt
When a child is on the lookout for the next thing to find, they are focused. That simple activity can really help a child calm down and self-regulate. Scavenger hunts are just great for everyone, adults included!
10 – Sensory Bag
Similar to a calm-down jar, sensory bags are soothing for all kids. You can add small objects and create an ispy bag or simply let them squish a bag filled with beads and gel or shaving cream. So many things you can do!
11 – I Spy Games
I love I Spy Games. They are great for the car, for waiting in line, for calming an anxious child, and more. All you need is a quick list of things to find (ie: something red, something round, etc).
12 – Playdough
Playdough can be one of the best calming sensory experiences. Some kids, like my daughter, may not enjoy the sensation as much if they have some sensitivities. Try this taste safe playdough.
13 – Squish Sandwich
This can be a fun game to play with your child. Add couch cushions over your child and squish them tight! The deep pressure can be very soothing and calming for them. Read more about deep pressure here.
14 – Finger Painting
Finger painting can be a very relaxing experience (for most kids). I say for most kids because my daughter cannot stand finger painting. So yes, for some kids this activity might evoke some unpleasant sensory feelings. Try it out with your child and see how they react to the experience.
15 – Drinking cold water
The act of drinking cold water can be very soothing for your child, even more so if it’s done with a straw. The effects of cold water and sucking can be very calming for kids.
16 – Water Play
Water is a calming element. Running cold water over your child’s hands for a few minutes can be enough to regulate them. If you want to make it into an activity, make a sensory water bin. Add some color to it with some food coloring. So many things you can do with water!
17 – Eating crunchy food
We always have some crunchy snacks with us, wherever we go. If we see that my daughter is getting anxious or overwhelmed, we hand over some crackers or her favorite cereal and it calms her down. This is why some adults tend to reach for chips as their comfort food. The crunch had a soothing effect.
18 – Musical Instruments
I’ve come to see that musical instruments were very soothing to my daughter, mostly the piano. It wasn’t long before we bought her a few of them. She often plays with it, or her xylophone. Lately, she also figured out how to play her flute.
Most musicians will tell you that playing music is their therapy. I believe them! Try it with your child.
19 – Coloring
Coloring is very soothing, even for adults. Coloring books for adults have been so popular in the last few years and with reason. It is a very calming activity that centers you and brings you to the present moment. It does the same for kids.
20 – Calming Tool Box
You can create a customized calming box for your child based on things they enjoy. Some examples: a small doodle board, stress balls, a fidget toy, a small puzzle, etc. It may become a great tool for them to use in the car, at school, and more.
Figuring out what works for your child
Every child is different. You will need to test out a few strategies and see what works best. You could even merge 2 of them together (think instrumental music with finger painting or coloring). I hope you can find what works for your child.