Calming sensory activities can help kids cope when they feel overwhelmed and experience sensory overload. Sensory overload can cause a child to become extremely agitated, have trouble focusing, or meltdown.
There are several different types of calming sensory overload activities that can help. Below, I will share the best activities that could help. You simply need to figure out which one works best with the child.
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Calming Sensory Activities
- Playing with play dough.
- Running hands through sand, grass, or water.
- Swaddling to give the sensation of a hug.
- Softly brushing on skin or body parts – arms, back, legs and head.
- Rocking can be very soothing. Some kids may rock from side to side on their own.
- Apply pressure to the child’s hands or arms with a gentle massage.
- Play soft, relaxing music to help soothe the child.
- Provide chewing gum or hard candy to chew on.
- Offer weighted blankets or stuffed animals to provide deep pressure input.
- Water play can be very calming for children, so consider filling a small pool or bathtub with warm water and letting your child soak.
- Crunchy foods can be helpful for children who need input to calm down. Try offering celery, carrots, or crackers.
- Sensory bottles are a great way to provide calming input for children. You can make your own by filling a bottle with water and adding glitter, beads, or sequins.
- Fidgets can be helpful in staying calm. Try offering a stress ball, putty, or a small toy to fidget with.
- Calming visual aids can be helpful for children who are struggling to regulate their emotions. Try using a visual schedule or social story to help your child understand what to expect and how to stay calm.
- Inverting your child – When you flip a child upside down, they get an influx of blood to their head, which can help to clear their thoughts and calm them down.
- Running cold or warm water over hands can be a quick solution if you’re at home, at a friend’s house, or even in the restaurant bathroom!
- Quiet/calm down corner or room can be highly beneficial if your child often needs to regulate themselves. See some tips here to create a sensory room.
- Blowing bubbles and their visual effects can help a child calm down and be more focused.
- Playing in a sensory bin is an effective strategy for our daughter. You can use water, beans, rice, beads, or even colored pasta!
- Waterbeads have a soothing effect on most kids. Always supervise when using beads. Here’s a safe way to use water beads.
- Drawing or painting can be a very relaxing activity for most people. Finger painting even more so.
- Dim lighting or sensory lights can create a calming environment for kids to cool off and find their inner zen.
- Building blocs or any focused-driven activity can help kids calm their energies and be more present.
- Sensory pathways can be amazing for kids that need movement to learn better.
- Yoga poses (think downward dog) helps kid calm down by being more focused on the action they do. Plus the inversion of the downward dog is very soothing.
- Chew toys are tools that can be beneficial for kids who enjoy chewing as it the action itself may help them soothe themselves.
- Deep breathing exercises are essential to all human beings! They help us be centered and present which calms us down.
- Hiding in a tent or under a blanket is often recommended for kids who become overstimulated by their environment.
When to use calming activities
There is no one answer to this question, as it will vary depending on the child and their individual needs. However, it may be helpful to use calming activities when a child feels overwhelmed or overloaded by sensory input.
This could be during a time of transition, such as when starting a new school year or moving to a new house. It could also be during a particularly stressful event, such as a family member getting sick or a pet dying.
Additionally, calming activities can be used on a regular basis to help a child learn how to manage and regulate their emotions. This may be especially helpful for children who struggle with anxiety or have been diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder, autism, or ADHD.
Sensory-friendly Websites & Apps
There are many apps and websites that offer sensory-friendly games and activities that can help calm and focus a child. Some of our favorites include:
Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame: Available for Android and Apple users, this app helps your child can down with the help of a Sesame friend.
Breathing Bubbles App: This app features a breathing exercise that can help your child calm down. Available for Android and Apple users.
DreamyKid: Available for Apple users. This app offers meditation, guided visualization, and affirmations for kids.
Calm.com: This website offers a variety of relaxation tools, including a breathing exercise, a body scan relaxation exercise, and a progressive muscle relaxation exercise.
If your child is often struggling with sensory overload, talk to their doctor, a therapist, or an occupational therapist specializing in sensory processing disorders. They can help you come up with a plan for managing sensory overload and provide additional strategies that may work well for your child.
It’s also important to keep in mind that many children benefit from working with a therapist to help them develop coping skills, improve executive functioning, and learn how to respond appropriately when they start feeling overwhelmed.
Please note: this is not intended to be medical advice. If you have any concerns about your child’s development, please consult with a doctor or occupational therapist. Always supervise your child during play.