Everyone can feel dysregulated or stressed sometimes – those feelings are normal! Calm down boxes are a great tool to help your children, or yourself, regulate your body and mind so you can build resilience and cope during life’s most stressful moments.
What is a calm down box?
A calm down box houses your child’s (or your) favorite items that can help them self-regulate, regain a normal heart rate, and center themselves. Calm boxes are focused on sensory exercises that can ground us by feeling, smelling, hearing, or practicing our breathing.
The golden rules of a calm down box:
- Make sure you or your child like what’s inside and that all items are age appropriate
- Don’t include screen-time with the calm box (gaming systems, iPads, etc.)
- Calm boxes are meant to encourage independent play and self-regulation
- You may need to model the calm down box for your child and show them how to use it the first few times
What does it mean to be dysregulated?
VeryWellMind describes dysregulation as the inability to manage emotional responses or to keep them within an acceptable range of typical emotional reactions in a given moment. This can refer to a wide range of emotions including sadness, anger, irritability, and frustration.
We can spot this during temper tantrums or loosing our cool at work. It’s important to understand that feelings are not bad but there are healthy ways to manage them – like with a calm box!
Want to learn more about dysregulation and what it does to our brain? Watch this video from ChildSavers’ Mental Health Director, John Richardson-Lauve, LCSW.
What to put in a calm down box (suggestions for all ages)
Children can begin to understand the concept of calm boxes when they’re toddlers and continue using their calm boxes into adulthood. Please note: as your child grows older, you will need to help them adapt the contents of their box as our interests change overtime. Here are some suggestions for every age group.
What to put in a calm down box for toddlers
Make sure that all of the items in your calm down box are age appropriate and that they’re items your child actually loves or uses often. Some calm box ideas for toddlers include:
- Sensory/activity books like My First Yoga or Little Monkey Calms Down
- Age-appropriate art supplies (large crayons, paper, stickers, coloring pages)
- Plush toys
- Flashcards that visually down biological needs/emotions (example: pictures of a hug, drinking water, using the bathroom, crying, or smiling)
- Items to help with teething
- Pinwheels or bubbles
What to put in a calm down box for elementary and middle schoolers
Again, it’s important for your child to enjoy what’s in their box. It’s also important that we’re not putting them infant of a screen, but engaging their other senses like feeling, hearing, tasting, and helping them regulate their breath. Some calm box ideas for children include:
- Legos or building blocks
- Kinetic sand, slime, or play-dough
- Bubble push poppers and other fidget-friendly toys
- Art supplies (gel pens, markers, paper, clay)
- Self-regulation activities like this one
- Bubbles and pinwheels
- Cars, dolls, puppets, or other items that encourage independent play/acting out emotions
- Chewing gum
Calm down box ideas for teens and adults
It can be easy to resort to screens and ignore our emotions when we’re dysregulated but what if put our phones and computers away to work through or stressors? We find these items useful in our calm down boxes for adults:
- Fragrant kinetic sand or slime
- Art supplies (our favorite pen, adult coloring books)
- Small puzzles or crosswords
- Zen/sand gardens
- Noise canceling headphones
- Essential oils
- Your favorite book or poem
Additional resources for calm down box and self-regulation ideas:
- 40+ THINGS TO PUT IN A CALM DOWN KIT FOR KIDS
- 17 Great Ideas for Your Classroom Calm Down Kit
- Calming water activities for infants and toddlers
- 5 Examples of Sensory Play to Try at Home with Kids
- Mirror & Match: De-escalation Tips For Parents, Teachers, and Caregivers
- Calming Breathing Exercises for Children and Adults
How to use and explain calm boxes to children
We highly recommend making your own box with your child and practicing together the first few times. Make sure it “lives” in the same place and is easily accessible. Again, we recommend that the box includes items you use frequently and love, so you may end up pulling it out often and not ONLY when stressors arise.
Follow these steps to keep your calm box in action on a regular basis:
1) Build a calm box together with your child and create one for yourself too.
2) Role-model by using the calm boxes during tantrums/big feelings and play time.
3) Encourage your child to grab their box and use it on their own.
4) Write little notes around if you need to jog your memory about the calm box or schedule time in your day to open it up and self-regulate.
Katy Reynolds, LPC, CTRP-C, is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and certified trauma and resilience practitioner (CTRP-C) on ChildSavers’ School Based Services team. She serves children and families by facilitating therapy as well as supporting school staff in navigating mental health challenges at the individual, classroom, and school system levels.
ChildSavers is a Richmond-based non-profit that provides children’s mental health services and child care resources and training. Our mission is to guide our communities’ children through life’s critical moments. We believe that all children can be safe, happy, healthy, and ready to learn.