Creative Child

Playful Ways to Help Kids Calm Down

by Rebecca Eanes

Our children’s brains are under construction! The prefrontal cortex, that area which houses executive functions and is responsible for emotional and behavior regulation, impulse control, logic, critical thinking, focus, and flexibility won’t be fully developed until the mid-twenties. This is why children are impulsive, have tantrums, and sometimes make poor decisions. It isn’t naughtiness; it’s development! 

We cannot force growth and maturation, but there are a few things we can do to facilitate growth, and one of the biggest ways we can support healthy brain development is to teach our children emotions regulation skills. With practice and repetition, they can improve their executive functions and build strong circuitry that leads to emotional health and well-being. 

Talking to our kids about how to recognize, name, tame, and process their feelings is paramount to raising an emotionally intelligent person. Nurturing emotional intelligence sets our children up for success. Studies show that children with high EQs have better relationships, stay in school longer, get better grades, are less likely to smoke, and also make better leaders. So, as you can see, how we handle our feelings is a big deal!

Teaching kids how to calm down when they have BIG emotions is a core component of emotional intelligence. If we teach them science-based strategies that are simple and fun, the strategies are more likely to stick. Be sure to practice these techniques when your child is calm and relaxed, not just in times of stress. Here are 10 playful ways to help kids calm down.

  1. Yoga games. Science shows that physical activity is good for growing executive function skills. Yoga is great to introduce your child to because it combines physical activity with mindfulness, and using yoga games adds in that playful element that makes kids want to participate. It can be as simple as Follow the Leader or Simon Says. Check out this list of 8 engaging yoga games!
  2. Deep breathing is a great way to calm down quickly, but it can sound quite boring to energetic kids. Some playful ways to make breathing exercises fun are taking big dragon breaths and blowing fire, or blowing out the candles on each of your 10 fingertips. 
  3. Squeeze something like a stress ball (a balloon filled with playdough works great). As the nerves and muscle contract in your hand, the nervous system reduces certain hormones that control stress. 
  4. Do animal walks such as frog jumps, crab walks, etc. Pretend to be a giant elephant stomping across the plains or a stealthy panther about to pounce! 
  5. Hang upside down or do a handstand. Inversion directly triggers certain relaxation responses in our bodies and turns off the fight or flight stress response.
  6. Blowing bubbles is a fun calming strategy because it naturally slows the breathing pattern. Add some aromatherapy with this lavender bubble recipe. 
  7. Listening to music can have a very calming effect on the body and mind. Turn it up and dance a little!
  8. Better yet, SHAKE! Throw those hands up in the air and shake, shake, shake all the frustration out of your body.
  9. Make up a silly rhyme, then say it backwards! Focusing the mind of a cognitive task engages the “thinking brain” which means your brain has to disengage from the emotions center. 
  10. Create with your hands. Whether through finger painting, building LEGOS, kneading playdough, or squishing sand, getting busy with your hands reduces anxiety, and creative acts have been compared to meditation because they release dopamine, a natural antidepressant.
Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of multiple books including Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother. She is the grateful mom of two boys. 


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