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Calming Techniques for Kids: 7 Stress Relief Tips to Try

December 7, 2022
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    Stress and overwhelm affect children just as much as they affect adults. Kids with ADHD and related anxiety and behavior disorders often have an even harder time calming down. If you have an anxious child, you may wonder what you can do to help calm them down. So, what are some stress relief tips you can use with children?

    In this article, we'll go over realistic calming techniques for kids, such as deep breathing exercises, squeezing objects to relieve stress, and using temperature to lower stress hormones.

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    How Can I Help My Child Calm Down?

    First and foremost, give your child space to talk about their emotions. If you are in public or an otherwise busy or noisy environment, it may be ideal to step aside. This level of sensory input can be overwhelming for children and adults alike at times. In moments of stress, moving to a quiet place momentarily can be helpful in and of itself.

    Don't be afraid of big feelings. Ask your child what's on their mind. To let them know you're listening, repeat back what they say. For example, "It sounds like school was hard today." Validate your child's emotions, and let them know that feelings can help guide them toward the action they need to take. For example, "when you feel overwhelmed, it can be helpful to take a deep breath, go for a walk, or ask to take a break." Depending on your child's age, you can also explain which calming strategies are appropriate for different environments.

    After that, you can use calming techniques for kids to soothe their stress response and help kids stabilize. When you teach skills like calming strategies at a young age, it helps kids later in life. It is helpful because kids will have the tools necessary to self-regulate. 

    Calming Techniques To Try With Kids

    Challenges such as irritability, anxiety, and overwhelm can strike any time, anywhere. Thankfully, many calming strategies for kids require few tools and can be used no matter where you are. Many of the ideas featured here are ones that adults can use, too; you might even use them to soothe your own nervous system. Remember these calming techniques for kids, or bookmark this page so that you'll have them next time you need them.

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    Practice deep breathing

    Breathing exercises are one of the most common calm-down techniques you hear about for a reason. Teach your child how to take deep breaths properly, filling the diaphragm slowly and releasing the breath slowly.

    Once kids learn how to take a deep breath, teach them simple breathing exercises. For example, the 5-5-5 breathing exercise, where you:

    • Breathe in for 5 seconds
    • Hold your breath for 5 seconds
    • Breathe out for 5 seconds

    The 4-7-8 breathing exercise is also common. Breathing exercises have a self-soothing quality and help shift the autonomic nervous system response. Deep breathing is known, in fact, to lower both physical and mental markers of the stress response.

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    Squeeze something (like a pillow)

    The physical act of squeezing an object can help relieve feelings of tension. It's a tool that many kids and adults use to relieve stress and aid self-regulation. If you don't have a pillow handy, it's okay.

    Other options include:

    • Stress balls
    • A stuffed animal
    • Certain sensory toys
    • Simple bath toys

    You can even find toys for kids that are similar to a stress ball but come in child-friendly shapes and bright colors. These are relatively inexpensive and can be found at most stores.

    Some kids like to pop bubble wrap for relief, too.

    Find calming sensory input

    Many calming strategies for kids can be valuable in times of sensory overload. Sensory input can also help children regulate their nervous system response. Sensory input can refer to any of the five senses. Here are some ways to use calming sensory input:

    • Blow bubbles
    • Use a noise maker
    • Use a weighted blanket
    • Shake your arms by your side

    Some parents may ask their kids if they want a hug. Just like the pressure from a weighted blanket can be helpful, a bear hug can have soothing effects.

    Teach kids to find a quiet space

    We talked about how it can be helpful to step aside during anxious or otherwise activated moments. With that in mind, it can also be advantageous to teach kids to do this as a way to reach a state of calm.

    It's not always practical, but when it is, knowing when to take a break is crucial. Teach your child to politely excuse themselves or ask to be excused when they're feeling overwhelmed. Especially if a child is feeling angry, hyperactive, or experiences disruptive behavior, it's important to know when to step aside.

    Once you let kids know it's time to step aside (or once they ask), help them find a quiet space indoors or in nature. As long as it's viable and appropriate, a break could be just what they need.

    Drink cold water

    Cool showers reduce inflammation and are proven to lower both physical and emotional stress. That said, it's not always viable to take a cold shower mid-day. Thankfully, you can utilize the effects of temperature on the body and mind in other ways. One of these is to drink cold water.

    You can also utilize temperature by holding an ice cube.

    Think of your favorite things

    Distractions can be helpful in times of stress. Playing a game where you list your favorite things is one way to distract your child regardless of where you are, whether the car or your child's room. Similar games, such as "I spy," can be helpful, too.

    Talk about how the nervous system works

    Alongside discussing mental health as a whole, it can be helpful to explain the fight or flight response and what happens in the nervous system during times of stress.

    Kids aren't too young to understand how the nervous system works. It just has to be done in a child-friendly way. You might explain the physical effects that can occur in an anxious moment and how the body reacts as though there's a threat, when in reality, there's not. For example, "some people's stomach feels funny when they're nervous. Is that true for you?"

    Parents can use this discussion to lead into the other strategies for kids in this article. A child may not understand why you're asking them to take deep breaths until you explain how it calms the body and mind.

    Try the 54321 technique

    The 54321 technique is simple but can support tremendous stress relief. It's a common grounding activity taught by many mental health professionals, such as therapists and counselors, who work with ranging age groups.

    To use the 54321 technique, direct your child to identify the following:

    • 5 things they can see (e.g., trees, clouds, or various household objects).
    • 4 things they can hear (e.g., music or rain).
    • 3 things they can touch (e.g, pillows and stuffed animals).
    • 2 things they can smell (e.g., candles, soap, or food).
    • 1 thing they can taste (e.g., warm hot chocolate, tea, or gum).

    The 54321 technique is a great way to employ all of the five senses. If your child is young, be patient and walk them through the exercise in steps.

    Use therapeutic creative activities

    Creative activities are an excellent outlet for stress. Conveniently, both older and younger children tend to enjoy them.

    Examples of creative therapeutic toys and activities to try with your children include:

    • Painting.
    • Drawing.
    • Clay molding.
    • Jewelry-making.
    • Soap-making.
    • Sand art.

    Not only does painting sound fun to most kids, but creative activities like painting and drawing are known to soothe kids, teens, and adults. Keep craft supplies at home so that you can use them to soothe your child.

    Go for a walk

    Physical activity is known for releasing feel-good hormones and reducing stress. Taking a walk is a convenient, cost-free way to help keep kids calm, and it's something both you and your child can do. 

    How long do you need to walk for it to work? Studies show that even a short, brisk walk that lasts around 10 minutes can help with mood. 

    Yoga Poses

    Yoga poses, like walking and breathing exercises, soothe the nervous system response in the body. Teach your child easy yoga poses to help them self-soothe. For example:

    • Child's pose
    • Big toe pose
    • Corpse pose
    • Standing toward bend
    • Boat pose

    You can use the website to find a list of poses for different needs, including anxiety and stress.


    Similar to deep breathing exercises, counting is a calming technique you can use no matter where you are. Like the 54321 technique, counting is a great grounding activity. For some children, counting normally will be too easy.

    If you feel that this may be the case for your child, instruct them to count backwards. Since counting backward requires more thought, it is more likely to distract from negative thoughts and help get kids calm.


    Learning to self-regulate and reduce stress are common childhood challenges. For kids with ADHD and other conditions, it can be particularly tough. Using calming techniques for kids is a way to set your children up for success regardless of if they live with a condition like ADHD. Try the calming strategies for kids in this article next time your child's feeling overwhelmed to help them get to a better state.


    Sarah Schulze MSN, APRN, CPNP

    Sarah is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with a specialty certification in pediatric mental health. She works at a clinic in Champaign Illinois, providing care to children and adolescents with mental health disorders. She obtained her bachelor's in nursing from Indiana State University in 2011 and completed her master's in nursing from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014. She is passionate about helping children create a solid foundation on which they can grow into healthy adults.


    Sarah Schulze MSN, APRN, CPNP

    Sarah is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with a specialty certification in pediatric mental health. She works at a clinic in Champaign Illinois, providing care to children and adolescents with mental health disorders. She obtained her bachelor's in nursing from Indiana State University in 2011 and completed her master's in nursing from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014. She is passionate about helping children create a solid foundation on which they can grow into healthy adults.