An Activity to Help Regulate Emotions

Do you have a child that gets anxious or becomes dysregulated and needs help calming down? This is an activity that we use with our clients that can help children with self-regulation when anxious or upset. 

Activity: Exploring Ways to Calm

Supplies: Free Calming Cards by GoZen (or any calming cards) and 3 small baskets.

Objective: This activity between, parent and child, is a simple way to explore what your child knows about themselves and what works to calm them when dysregulated.

Set up: Print cards and cut them out so that they can be individually examined later.

Ideas for engagement:

1) Have your child sort cards with “works for me”, “doesn’t work for me” or “I don’t know.” You can make comments such as "I notice that about you. Tight hugs help your body relax" or simply "That makes sense to me." If your child sorts cards into the "works for me" and you don't agree, just note it in your mind. Try not to comment or correct.

2) Once sorted, take the stack of "works for me" and have your child select her favorite 10 cards that she feels are her most effective in calming her down when she is mad/frustrated/misunderstood or experiencing the emotions where calming strategies might be effective.

3) Give gentle feedback if she is selecting things that "doesn't work for me” if you see her putting an effective strategy. You might say something like, “I see how effective this can be for you.” If she sorts things as "works for me" and you simply don't know, you might say something like “I’m gonna watch for these strategies. I’m not sure I noticed these being effective for you to calm down."

When you notice your child selecting items as "works for me" and you don't believe it to be true; consider the why. Are the selected calming strategies something that are just fun to do?. If your child accepts feedback well, you might share something like, "I see that jumping is fun for both you and I. I'm not sure it calms big emotions, but do you want to jump with me after." If your child is more sensitive to feedback, simply keep your comments for a different day.

4) Take her 5-10 cards that agree are all cards that calm and laminate them or make a book that can be accessible to your child. You don't have to get too creative on this, taping them to a piece of paper could work too.

5) Take the ones that your child sorted as “I don’t know" and see if she can select two to practice. The goal in this portion of the activity is to invite learning of new strategies. You might say, "I wonder if we should try two of these to see if they just might work for you." Listen for your child's response and respond to that. Don't try to convince her of the value of trying new things. Note that this was challenging for the child and revisit later. Read Resilience in Children

6) Next, take the "doesn't work for me” and tear them up together to discard in the trash. This should be fun, but it’s also meaningful to help her understand not all strategies work for all people. It is okay that she checks in with herself and can advocate for what is and what is not a fit. It's okay if you discard ones that you believe work for your child too. You can always add those back later.

7) End the activity after tearing up the papers. Don't go into how you will use the selecting calming strategies. Only make comments about the future use of the card if they are your child's idea.

8) Final thing, have her share and educate another important adult on the calming strategies that she selected. This sharing and feeling like a calming expert will help her feel good about herself and likely lead to more positive discussions about calming strategies.

9) Tips for success. Keep all judgement comments out of this activity. This might sound like" I wish you did that more" or "if you did these, you wouldn’t have as many tantrums." These and comments like them, will shut her down. If your child struggles with reading in any way, do not make this a reading task.

The objective is not to determine if they can read words, but to determine what they know about themselves and calming. Read for them in these cases. Remember the purpose this activity is to be exploratory about calming strategies.

Leave all the other stuff for a different day!

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