Calming activities: Home program
What is calming?
Children who feel overwhelmed by tasks or
sensory input—too much to see and do—may
find it hard to focus and succeed in everyday
activities. Depending on their heredity,
personality, motivation, and stage of growth,
some children need help to relax and focus.
The term “calming” can refer to promoting:
• a relaxed state
• an organized nervous system (alert but
• emotional well-being or stability
How can I help my child?
The following checked activities can
decrease stress and help your child function
better at home, at school, and in the
community. This home program should be
used only under the guidance of an
It is helpful to:
• Choose a calming activity and use it
before and after a stressful event. Letting
your child help choose this activity can
ease the stress even more.
• Get to know your child’s signs of stress.
These might include a change in the
amount of talk or eye contact,
withdrawal, self-hurting or risk-taking,
sweating, or self-stimulation.
• Finish all self-care and hygiene routines
at least one hour before bedtime, leaving
time for your child to calm down.
Give a lotion massage using deep
Roll child up in a blanket and rock, either
in your lap or beside you. Make sure
shoulders and feet are covered for
Play “hot dog” or “squish”: sandwich
child between pillows, or roll up in a
blanket (with head out). Stop if child is
Have child lie or sit on a blanket, then drag
it across the floor. If you have a partner,
pick up the ends and swing gently.
Wrap arms and legs in Ace® wraps (not
too tight) and play mummy.
Lie down to watch a movie or read a
book; cover with a heavy blanket.
Sit in an oversized beanbag chair for
snugness around the head and body; try
adding a heavy blanket too.
A vibrating pillow calms some children.
Give a warm bath, but be mindful of soap
scents, which may be alerting. Try
putting a towel in the dryer during the
bath, then use it while still warm. Use
firm pressure when drying with the towel.
If your child is playing very actively, join
in and play along, gradually slowing it
down. For example, if play wresting, let
your child set the pace for a while, then
gradually use firmer, steadier touch to
calm things down.
Play with resistive media such as
Play-doh®, clay, sand, dry rice, or beans.
Show child how to pet a quiet dog or cat
with slow, even strokes. Calming the animal
may help the child feel the same way
Keep lights dim or off, and use natural
light from the windows.
Move to a clutter-free room.
Make a quiet corner: small spaces tend to
be calming. For example, drape blankets
over a card table and place pillows,
blankets, stuffed animals, books, and
quiet toys underneath. If this corner is
always available, your child will learn to
use it when feeling stressed.
Approach child from the front; avoid
Consider the colors in your child’s
bedroom: pastels, earth tones, and shades
of blue and green are the most calming.
Watch fish swimming in a tank.
Watch fire in a fireplace.
Play with oil and water toys.
Sing a familiar tune quietly.
Use music with a slow steady beat, such
as lullabies or classical music.
If your child is distracted by sounds such
as the refrigerator, heater, or air
conditioner turning on and off, use a
white noise machine. Children’s ears are
often more sensitive than adults’.
Many scents are known to be calming. If
you are interested in aromatherapy, ask
your therapist about a referral to
Children’s Integrative Medicine program.
Massage is also available, using
Make activities as routine as possible. If
dressing is the task, make a small chair
the “dressing chair.” When seated in the
chair, the child will know it is time for
Keep a steady morning routine. For
example: first wake your child up in the
usual way, then go to the bathroom, then
go to the kitchen for breakfast, then brush
Use a picture schedule to teach daily
routines. Take pictures of common
activities—meals, car rides, outdoor
play—and display them in order on a
sheet of paper or in a photo album. Once
your child learns the pattern, you may not
need to refer to the schedule until a
change is made.
Keep bedtime routines the same every
night, and if needed, use pictures or a
written schedule until your child learns it.
If it changes, use a picture or written
Play quietly in the bedroom with items
such as puzzles or books. Dim the light
and have as little background noise as
When your child gets into bed, give a
firm back rub before saying good night.
Use items such as a weighted blanket,
several lightweight blankets, a sleeping
bag, pillows, or stuffed animals to cuddle.
Place the bed against the wall so your
child can move close to it for a boundary.
Use room-darkening shades if your child
is sensitive to light. If a night light is
needed, a colored bulb is less distracting.
If your child is a light sleeper, use a white
noise machine or a fan. Even plumbing or
furnace sounds can wake some children.