Thursday, 17 May 2012

Five Playful Tools for Calm Down Time

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Playful Tools for Calm Down Time

I absolutely hate the saying 'Terrible Twos' - but there are some days I want to believe in it with all my heart. That my sweet little boy currently beating me round the head is victim to some horrible age related disease that he will surely grow out of just around his third birthday. There are days I find myself shouting 'stop shouting' and days where we do more time-out than quality time. There are days when Vin is yelling 'porridge porridge' so loud I'm worried that the neighbours are going to call social services because it sounds like I never feed my kid and I glance despairingly at the bowl of porridge lovingly prepared less than five minutes ago and head into the kitchen to make him another bowl as requested. Only to present second bowl of lovely porridge to be met with a look that says 'what the hell is this mama?' Then he kicks the fridge and falls asleep under the dining table. And as I am slowly tiptoeing away and simultaneously kicking myself for not noticing the signs of tiredness I step barefoot into a bowl of porridge. The cold one. 

So, I figure I need to change my gameplan - I need some tools, an arsenal probably, for creative and playful calm down moments. Here's what I came up with...

Terrible Twos Sensory Play for Calm Down Time

1. Sensory Tub - We all know how therapeutic sensory play can be. How many times have you sat meditatively as you swish your hands through your kiddo's waterbeads, sunk your hand into a bowl of rainbow rice or let handfuls of sand trickle through your fingers? I set up a little Zen Garden of a sensory tub using dried Butter and Haricot Beans. I chose them mostly for the colour, but also because they are cool and smooth and quite peaceful feeling. Past experience tells me that the bigger the filler the easier the clean up, and if you're feeling drained and frazzled the last thing you want to be doing is sweeping coloured sand out of the carpet! I am usually about props, little people, scoopy things and pouring tools when it comes to sensory play, but this time I went very calm - a set of chopsticks and a wooden spoon. I also added an empty glass spice bottle - the idea being that the opening to the bottle is quite narrow, the beans have to be picked up individually and placed in the bottle one by one.

Time Out Alternatives Sensory Play

Aromatherapy Playdough for Stressed Kids

2. Playdough - I have written before about the benefits of playdough - the sensory pleasure, the focus on a task, the act of creating (or destroying) is very soothing. Here I added lavender oil to our usual recipe inspired by The Imagination Tree's Aromatherapy Playdough Post

Again, normally I add lots of props - beads, cutters, straws, feathers, sequins etc - to our playdough, for this batch we just have a wooden rolling pin and some plastic cutlery in our toolbox. Of course if the kiddos want to they can add other elements (I'm sure they will) but the point is to soothe, rather than overwhelm and excite. 

Lavender Playdough Recipe

Sound Therapy for Stressed Kids

3. Music Therapy - I'm only jokingly calling this one music therapy, I have no idea what music therapy actually entails - but this one uses very calming sounds to centre the child. I made a simple 'water xylophone' by filling glasses with different amounts of water and adding a popsicle stick as a 'beater' - I used a few drops of food dye in each cup to make this a visual experience too, but it is not neccessary. The more full the cup the deeper the note - the sound is very pleasant even if they're bashed quite hard (though I wouldn't suggest this with a child in the throes of a tantrum unless you want to be mopping up green stains from the carpet!)

Water Xylophone Music Therapy

Mind Jar Creative Time Out Technique

4. Mind Jar - I've seen this idea all over Pinterest but the first time I saw it was here. The put together is very simple - a jar or bottle filled with water and glitter glue (I used glitter paint) - the superglue the lid shut and you're done. The idea is that the child shakes up the glass and watches the glitter swirl and settle - this would make a good 'time-out' timer if you practise time out in your home, otherwise it's just very meditative to watch. 

Glitter Calm Down Jar

Sensory Bag for Chill Out Time

5. Sensory Bags - again this is a twist on an old idea. We've done a traditional sensory bag with hair gel once before - usually they're for mark-making practise or made into suncatchers. Here I filled my bag with baby oil and added a big squirt of blue food colouring, the colouring being water based won't mix with the oil and creates a lovely 'Rosharch' Effect. It's also very cool in temperature (though I'm sure it would warm up if you left it in the sun) which is nice if you're feeling hot and flustered (as my boy does when he's nearing melt-down). Again, this is not one to be played with during an actual melt-down as it will split if it's squashed too vigorously!

Zen Family Habits Sensory Bag

Some more thoughts for your tantrum proofing - 

take a bath - use a drop or two of a calming oil like lavender or chamomile, or a bubble bath containing the scent

Put together a calm down basket

Journalling - writing/ painting/ creating through your worries is great for older kids (and stressed out mamas)

Read this great post on Blowing Bubbles to Calm Down from Creative with Kids 

What have you found works for calm-down time in your house?


  1. Great post we have done all of these with my son :)

  2. Is there such a thing as calm down time in a house with two small boys?
    A couple mood changers for us are building forts...there is something about a cover over my boys head that calms them down and makes the world right again and cloud dough is a real favorite at our house too.
    I am going to try the baby oil/food coloring 2 yr old will love that. Thank you for all your beautiful, simple creative ideas...they are great.

  3. Uh-oh, we never had the "terrible twos", but we're in the midst of the "independent threes". All of your photos felt very calming to me, especially the white.

  4. Love the music therapy. Been where you've been, and sympathise.I too hope 'they' are right that is a age related thing

    1. I forgot to mention how much i love the bean tray with different sized beans, that makes it look so much more inviting. Unfortunately when Goblin gets into one he would just throw the beans around the room leaving me having an adult sized tantrum. Thanks for being so open and sharing on Kids Co-op

  5. He he he! These would work great for Mummy too! Gee, I know what you mean about signs of tiredness, but Chook just won't go back to bed, so I have to continue with the cajooling and sing-song mummy voice. Great post. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Lovely ideas! I am pinning these for reminder when we may have some toddlers again in the home.

  7. I really like these ideas for calming down right before nap time or bed time. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Just hopped over from Kid's Co-op. What a great post with some lovely ideas, can't wait to try the water xylophone. Thanks for sharing. Ellie

  9. Great ideas! ANd thank for including the bubble blowing post :)

  10. These are all wonderful calming activities, especially the zen sensory tub :)

  11. Charlotte, this is a lovely post. I think these are great ideas not just for 2 year olds but even 3, 4, 5+. I also have used a couple of these with my son who has sensory issues and they are very effective in soothing and calming him. Will have to try the "music therapy". He will love it. Sharing this post. Thank you.

  12. What a fantastic post! I love your idea of using play and redirection to clam down. Best of all, these ideas are so simple and easy to prepare! Thanks for sharing such a valuable tool!

  13. Love these ideas - and if they don't work for my son I'm sure they will work for me! ;-)

  14. what a brilliant post! pinning for lots of future references! :)

  15. What interesting and innovative ideas - I spend most of my time working with children, but I hadn't seen many of these suggestions before. In fact, just looking at the photographs makes me feel quite calm and relaxed - but also eager to try them out! Where do you get your inspiration?

    I've never read your blog before, but I think it's wonderful that you are encouraging such thoughtful and carefully-planned creative activities, as opposed to sand, water and playdough (not that there's anything wrong with these, of course!).

    I'm a new blogger myself and if you have a minute in which you could stop by my page at, I'd really appreciate it. It discusses examples of what I consider to be 'bad' parenting that I've seen on a day-to-day basis, and I would love to hear your opinion!

    Thanks! :D

  16. I have been having a frazzled sort of day and just looking at you photos I feel calmer, I definitely need a set of these for when mommy is nearing a meltdown


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