calming kids

March 6, 2011


Image from Microsoft clip art.

The next two strategies are from the Second Step programme.

In the programme, children are told that they should do some deep breathing in situations where they find they are having strong feelings, such as being overexcited, angry, or upset. We tell kids that it’s ok to have strong feelings, but doing the first thing that comes into your head (like hitting or screaming at the other person) will not solve the problem.  When we have strong feelings it can be hard to think about what to do. Calming down helps us think again. It’s easier to calm down if we try as soon as we start to have a strong feeling. You can use ways to calm down in the classroom, at home, and in the playground.

Put your hand on your tummy to check out how you are feeling, and
l.  say “calm down” to yourself, using a slow voice
2. take three deep belly breaths
3. count to 4 slowly
Your tummy is right where your belly button is. Putting your hand there helps you check in with how you’re feeling. It also makes sure you do the right kind of breathing to help calm down. The wrong way to do belly breathing is to puff up your chest, tense your muscles, take a noisy gasp of air, and hold your breath. The right way to do belly breathing, is to take a breath that makes your tummy move out when you breathe in, and in when you breathe out. Breathe in slowly through your nose and out through your mouth. It should be so quiet that you can’t hear it.

It’s a good technique for parents to use as well!

I haven’t used the next strategy with my own kids. I tend to use it at the start of a group when the kids are buzzing or bristling with energy and I know I won’t get anything done until they come back into their bodies and become attuned to how they are feeling.

Stand tall.
Take a deep breath and tense your muscles, make them tight all over.
Let your breath out and relax your muscles.
Take another deep breath and tense your muscles.
Now let your breath out and relax your muscles.
Close your eyes and count slowly to 10 with me.
Reach for your toes and hang there.
Pretend that you are an elephant and swing slowly from side to side.
Now reach for the sky, stand up on your toes.
Hold it there.
Now relax.

At playgroup, after we have sung some songs and before story time, I get the kids to do Robots, Towers, Jellyfish. I picked this strategy up from another playgroup facilitator who picked it up from a conference years ago. 

Robots – tighten your muscles all over
Towers – stretch up to the sky
Jellyfish – relax and wobble
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About hakea

groupworker, parent educator, therapist, mother of three boys.

View all posts by hakea


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10 Comments on “calming kids”

  1. eof737 Says:

    Very relaxing exercise and I can imagine how it helps the kids calm down and focus on their breath. Beautiful 🙂


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Eliz

      It’s good to help kids understand that they can control how they are feeling.

      I use the deep breathing when I’m rushing around in the morning trying to get kids ready for school and myself ready for work, and I can’t remember where I put the car keys. It really does work!

      Thanks for dropping in and making a comment.


  2. kloppenmum Says:

    These certainly work at our house! Slowing speech down is an approach we’ve used for a long time; rapid speech is a sure sign of anxiety. And the Hare will often ask for help to do the relaxation exercise. Thanks, hakea. 🙂


    • hakea Says:

      That’s great! Sounds like Hare is learning to recognise and manage his anxiety.

      I can’t speak highly enough of the Second Step programme.


  3. Yelena Says:

    I was just thinking of using something like that (the focusing exercise) with my son as a transition from “loud” activities to something quite, like math games. For now we’re using the “let’s read a story” approach, but the problem with that is he doesn’t want to stop at just one story and our transition becomes an activity in itself. You are so helpful!


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Yelena

      We do seem to be in synch often. You are either doing something that I’m thinking about or vice versa.

      I still haven’t done the tin can robot.


  4. Elena Says:

    I’ve helped my kids breathe deeply before, but never with the focus on the belly… I’m going to have to add that in. I find in my own life it is so important to stay in tune with what’s going on in my body, I wish someone had taught me that earlier and I don’t want to make the same mistake with my own children!

    Robots towers jellyfish sounds like great fun! I can imagine how it would facilitate recentering the body and mind. I’m definitely trying that one today!


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Elena

      These are great exercises for kids to learn. The kids I work with are so reactive. They all do the first thing which comes into their head – hit, scream, torrent of abuse. They know what they should do, but get caught up in the moment. It helps them to say to them “stop”, “breathe”. I breathe with them. It teaches them to stop and think before they act.


  5. lifewithgoblins Says:

    Thank you for this Hakea. I am going to print this and try it tomorrow with Mathias! I think he needs it!!! (SO DO I!!!).


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