Our daughter Dancing Queen suffers from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and anxiety disorder. She has been in therapy for a few years now, including a specialized treatment program for trauma and attachment.
We work a lot with her at home, but I have recently been wanting to work more on teaching her to manage some of her anxiety on her own so that she can slowly work towards independence by the time she is an adult. One of the tools I chose to use was creating a calm down kit for her to help her manage her anxiety.
How to create a calm down kit…
The most important factor in creating a kit for your child is customizing it to what works for your child. If you have seen that there are certain activities or toys that seem to soothe your child, those may be great additions to their kit.
What you want to do in essence is create a toolbox of tools that they can pull out when they need them. You want to give them the strategies and confidence to be able to manage their stress and anxiety on their own.
In my daughter’s kit, I included:
- two stress balls (tutorial on how to make them yourself easily and inexpensively here)
- a kaleidoscope
- Wondertube (I-spy tube)
- piece of fabric
- lavender scented play dough in purple (soothing colour)
- small mirror (for checking herself to see if her face is relaxed)
- Rescue Remedy (natural stress relief drops that seem to really help our daughter if given at the beginning of anxiety)
- Rescue Gum
- the book The Way I Feel
- sound therapy (her favourite is the tropical rainforest sound or the heartbeat)
- mini massager (she is able to massage her scalp or ask me to massage her back or neck with this)
- relaxation prompt cards*
Treasure Scope KaleidoscopeBach Kids Rescue RemedyRescue Spearmint Chewing GumMini Palm MassagerSound Therapy Sound MachineThe Way I Feel
*I have provided printable Relaxation Prompts for Children with some suggested activities or you can make your own. Please read the explanations at the bottom of this post that go into more detail about each of the suggested tools for reducing stress and anxiety.
For younger children, you may need to create cards with pictures.
Other suggestions of items that could be included in an anti-anxiety kit…
- an iPod with headphones
- noise blocking headphones
- an iPad with games that are repetitive and calming
- activities from the Teaching Emotions Toolkit
- small photo album of loved ones
- something with vanilla or lavender scent
- warm, fuzzy socks
- a favourite book
- a soothing sounds CD
- a special blanket
- stuffed animal
- weighted vest or neck roll
Teaching Emotions ToolkitWhen My Worries Get Too Big!Kids Noise Reducing Headphones
How to use the anxiety reduction kits…
Before introducing your child to their kit and its contents, sit down with them and discuss the signs that they are beginning to feel anxious. Have them describe to you the changes they feel in their body.
Ask them questions about their heart rate, their breathing, their senses, their temperature (many children describe feeling hot or cold), and any other changes they notice in their bodies as they begin to become anxious.
Next, empower them by telling them that you believe in them and think that they can learn strategies to help them cope with their own stress. You may want to tell them a few strategies you use to cope with your own stress.
Introduce the kit that you have made “just for them” and explain its contents and how each may be used when they start to feel anxious. Let them know that there may be times when they try one thing in the kit and it doesn’t seem to help but that there are other things they can try.
All of the items and ideas in the kit should be practised with you a number of times before the child is expected to try them on their own. Until a child feels confident about their ability to reduce their anxiety themselves, you should stay nearby while they use their kit.
Offer encouragement and praise, but avoid the temptation to suggest which coping strategy they should use unless you see an escalation in their anxiety and it is obvious that they need direction.
Explanations for the Relaxation Prompt Cards…
Go to a quiet place – sometimes removing themselves from a situation or from the noise and distractions can help minimize stress responses and help a trauma response or time of anxiety to be over faster.
Pray – this one seems fairly self-explanatory. For children who have a foundation of faith, prayer can be comforting.
Listen to music – listening to music or a special relaxation CD with soothing sounds on it is very calming for many children.
Breathe deeply – deep breathing is a skill that must be taught and practised. Your child will be better able to handle stressful situations using their breathing techniques if they have practised them at times when they were not feeling under duress. One way to practise is to have them lay on their back and place a stuffed animal on their stomach or chest and demonstrate how the stuffed animal rises and falls with their breathing and see if they can create higher rises.
Go for a run – running is a good activity for stimulating endorphins, releasing cortisol (very important in children with high anxiety), and providing an EMDR effect on the bottoms of the feet because of the left-right repetitive motion (more about EMDR below)
Wrap yourself in a blanket – wrapping snugly in a blanket or even in a tube of stretchy fabric mimics the feelings of security of being swaddled as an infant and for some children, may provide quick relief from anxiety
Drink water – Being even slightly dehydrated can increase cortisol levels. It’s important for our kids who battle anxiety to drink water frequently.
Tapping – Explaining tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique) would require a post all of its own. It works wonders for some kids and they can even learn to do it to themselves. For other kids, it doesn’t seem to decrease their stress. You can learn more about it and watch how-to videos here.
Draw a picture – Art therapy is an incredible tool and by expressing themselves through art during a time of high emotion, your child may be able to release some of their stress and perhaps even be better able to get to the root of and communicate their feelings.
Relax your face – Have your child practise tightening and relaxing their muscles at a time when they are not in crisis to better understand what relaxed looks and feels like. This is where having a small mirror in their kit will come in handy.
Hum a song – humming is more calming than singing because of the vibrations
Imagine your safe place – our daughter has done imagery work in therapy about her safe place so when she is struggling to feel safe within her feelings or body or memories, going to that place in her mind helps her to feel safe again (this is something you would want to discuss with your child at a time when they are calm so that they could determine what that place is for them)
Put your feelings in a bucket – this is a tool that our daughter learned in therapy and it works very well for her when her feelings are overwhelming her. To make this easier, I am keeping her kit in a large bowl with a lid so that the bowl is readily accessible. It is what it sounds like. The child grabs their feelings (from near their stomach or chest or wherever they feel they are) and puts them into a bowl. When they feel like all their scary feelings are in the bowl, they can put the lid on it and put them away for when they are feeling strong enough to face them. (our daughter chooses to give her feelings to God before she puts the lid on the bowl)
Read a book – there are so many wonderful children’s books about feelings such as I Feel Orange Today, Today I Feel Silly, When I Feel Sad , My Mouth is a Volcano that can help children to recognize and address their feelings.
I also highly recommend When My Worries Get Too Big (a relaxation book for children who live with anxiety).
EMDR – EMDR is a therapy (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) that has proven highly effective in dealing with trauma. It can be done using taps and can be combined with a positive mantra such as “I’m okay, you’re okay” or “I’m safe, you’re safe” to retrain the brain. I would recommend that you get some instruction on EMDR from a trained therapist because I don’t feel that I am qualified to teach you how, nor do I know your child and the particular circumstances, but EMDR has been the single most effective therapy that we have used with our daughter. I have also used it on myself in the past in dealing with trauma and on some of our other kids.
Ask for a hug – learning to ask for comfort when they need it is a wonderful skill for a child to have
Count slowly – this can be combined with breathing techniques to make it even more effective
Whisper the alphabet – reciting something familiar such as the alphabet is a good anxiety reducing technique and whispering it helps them to focus on something other than their negative emotions in the moment
What to Include in a Calm Down Kit
More Calm in the Chaos – The Printable Planner for Moms of Special Needs KidsFeelings Jenga Game
Helping a Child Through Trauma
Michelle C. says
Hmmm I wonder if I could implement some of this for my daughter. She has bipolar disorder which comes with anxieties. She takes Rescue Remedy currently because we’re out of her usual Flower Essences for bipolar disorder. Actually, when her sister arrives for the weekend will be our first test with Rescue Remedy for this particular disorder. My friend who is a midwife/doula had a mom go into mania during labor and it worked.
Oh my goodness. I think I could use one of these! 🙂
As I read this, I realized how tense my face was. Goodness, let me go light a lavender candle.
I love this idea! We have had excellent results with EMDR too.
These are great suggestions and I am going to put them to use. Thank you for sharing this 🙂
Sharla! What a great post. I am going to make a kit this week. It may be mostly for myself (including the playdough…I love it) though the kids will definitely benefit too. Thanks!
Your site was recommended by someone who visited our homeschooling blog, http://everystarisdifferent.blogspot.com. She said we had much in common. I think she may be right. Thank you so much for this wonderful post. I have 4 children, two biological boys ages 6 &5, both with autism. I also have two adopted daughters (through foster care) ages 4 & almost 2. My four year old has Reactive Attachment Disorder, PTSD, & Fetal Alcohol Syndrome of Affect. We have just learned that our almost 2 year old most likely has autism as well. My husband and I were foster parents for 4 years taking in over 24 children, 15 of which were babies. He now has returned to work (he’s a mental health therapist), and I remain home with the children, homeschooling etc.
I really love the idea of an anxiety kit. It sounds wonderful for each one of my kiddos! Thank you so much for sharing. I look forward to reading more!
It does sound like our families have a lot in common! For us, through all the special needs, we have found the combination of RAD and PTSD to be the most challenging, so that is where I am focusing most of my energy these days. I hope that by sharing some of the strategies that are working for us, I can help other families too.
I agree with you 100% about RAD and PTSD being the most challenging! Parenting a child with RAD and PTSD is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I look forward to reading about more of your ideas!
I just want you to know that I am speechless with gratitude, inspiration, appreciation for you and ur husband and every other foster family out there that Cares for these children!! there is nothing more sad than a child that doesn’t feel wanted. when I grow up im going to be a foster care provider/social worker. you are wonderful thank you for caring. happy holidays
Martha R. Butler says
I could use some of these anxiety kits. I need this. I’ve been really stressed with a lot of stuff lately and thinking about those just make me want to vanish. I couldn’t relax, i couldn’t focus when i have anxiety attacks. I could really use the tips here to create an anxiety reduction kit.
Becky D. says
Oh thank you for sharing this. My 6yr old was recently diagnosed with PTSD and we’re just getting to teaching her ways to cope/handle things versus the play therapy. These looks like great ideas. I recently joined Holy Spirit Led Homeschooling on facebook and I’m feeling like the Holy Spirit sent me a gift this morning.
I’m so glad you found me today. Walking through PTSD with our daughter has been a big challenge. She is 7 now and we are thankful to have learned some strategies that are effective with her and very blessed that there is a local treatment program for trauma and attachment that we can attend with her. My hope with this kit is that she can learn to calm herself a bit more so that if ever I’m not right here to remind her of her strategies and talk her through calming down, she can walk herself through it.
When I was having anxiety about childbirth, I wrote out scriptures on index cards that brought me comfort and reminded me of God’s presence and protection. You could make a ring with verses for your child, or even better, your child could choose the verses themselves if they are old enough.
That’s a really great idea Heidi. I am going to add some verses that my daughter finds comforting onto our ring.
Tammy Kindig says
The link for Rescue Remedy shows the one for pets….a bit confusing. I was able to find the one for children…any way to change the link?
Thanks for pointing that out Tammy! I have changed the link.
jan waller says
thanks so much for sharing. my 8 year old grandson has nystagmus( he is legally blind)and ADHD with anxiety disorder. He is very attached to his mom especially since his parents were divorced about 2 years ago.His dr is dealing with adhd at the moment hoping that will improve the anxiety with out more drugs. Sharing this with her as an alternative or add on help.
This list is great! I think it would help with some of my anxiety feelings! My daughter sometimes exhibits the same signs so I know it would be helpful to give her the tools to be able to calm herself down.
This is a great idea, I need a mama anxiety kit too!
This is great information. I would like to add that the lavender needs to be real essential oil to have the desired calming effect. Artificial lavender sent does not have the same effect.
That is true. I used actual lavender in mine but lavender essential oil would work also.
Thank you so much for this post. We are dealing with autism and extreme anxiety that causes our oldest daughter to pull out her eyelashes and eyebrows. This will be a wonderful tool for her. Thank you times a million from this desperate momma.
I really hope that some of these strategies are able to help your daughter.
Thanks Sharla. I showed it to her and she said yes that it was a great idea! We are going to work on it together and let her creative juices flow. Her autism makes her so stinking creative and she is becoming an amazing artist. Love watching her grow and change. THis will be a great tool to help her reach the goals of becoming an independent adult. 🙂
I’m so happy to hear that!
Wonderful ideas! Thanks so much! Just a note on Bach’s Rescue Remedy – it does contain alcohol but they make one for kids that is sans alcohol. It’s a great product!
This was soooo helpful. Thank you for sharing!
What a great idea. Hard because my kid would deny any anxiety but I will try this anyway. I love that book, the way I feel. Amazing illustrations.
Stephanie M says
I have 2 boxes for my son: one in his bedroom and one in his classroom at school. One thing his therapist taught me was that it is most helpful when you can engage each of the 5 senses, so I try to make sure I have a good variety of objects to hit every sensory need.
Stephanie M says
We call it his Tool Kit.
Natalia Erehnah says
Great ideas, some of which we use already, some I will add to our toolbox. I love empowering children to care for themselves.
One more natural and effective item we use is homeopathic cell salts. I have a short intro blog here: http://swanmothers.com/2013/09/17/natures-12-magic-healers-cell-salts-101/
Great kit!! I shared away on this one! 😉
Thanks so much for sharing this kit! Such a creative idea for helping anxious kids cope. This also inspires me to make something similar for those times when my young kids just get overwhelmed. Having a tool kit to work through emotions and find calm seems like it would be so empowering for them. I also wrote about this on my blog http://lightbulbparenting.com to share it with even more parents who want to help their children cope with strong emotions.
This is really wonderful.
There is so much good in having a little kit to help kiddos feel in control of their feelings.
“Up and Down the Worry Hill” is another great book. The techniques are designed for OCD, but as many have stated – there are lots of areas where anxiety overlaps and if the techniques work, there’s no need to specify!
Kathy Hotelling says
If your child has an FASD do not give them these rescue remedies unless you check to make sure there is no alcohol in the contents. As far as I know, all of them have alcohol except for one.
I’m an adult who has been battling PTSD for two years, since going through a particularly rough life experience. Not long after I first started seeing one, my therapist gave me the task of writing a list of all the things I could do to help myself through a panic attack so I could look at it again if I needed such a list. This post seems to follow the same kind of logic. I am also a former preschool teacher, and I love knowing that children with anxiety problems are being taught strategies to help themselves. Learning how to face your own problems head-on is really the best way to fight things like PTSD (at least in my experience).
Teacher Krissy says
Thank you for sharing these. I will be using your relaxation cards for today’s yoga class. 🙂
Thank you for sharing 🙂 I have suffered with anxiety for yrs & have always wished there was someway other than meds to help combat it. My daughter (16 yrs) also suffers from anxiety bouts & has medical issues that negate the use of normal meds.
I hope you don’t mind but I shared your article (in full using a link) on my homeschool Facebook page Buchtel Academy. I have come across many who would find your ideas useful & may have never come across your site on their own ( I discovered you thru Homeschool Freebies).
I really hope something like this can help your daughter. Thank you for sharing on Facebook.
Heather Gilmore says
Excellent article! I am a therapist specializing in play therapy and I do freelance writing. One of my gigs is with Psych Central. I am linking to this article from one of my articles because I love your suggestions! Very well done!
Terrific idea. My son doesn’t suffer anxiety any more but my daughter does. I think a lot of people will benefit from this post. Thank you!
I was telling my 8yo (who suffers from debilitating anxiety) about EMDR, and he said, “Oh, that must be why punching bags are so good.” I had never thought about it that way, but I think he might be on to something!
And thank you for taking your daughter’s anxieties seriously. We once had a therapist tell us his anxiety was simply a discipline issue and I should punish him for being scared. We never went back.
Renee Schuhmacher says
i love these suggestions. I would also recommend lemon balm tincture made with glycerine rather than alcohol. We use this for everyone in our family. It has no side effects, is not addictive and is highly effective at calming and relaxing. It has many uses. While my daughter and I use it as needed during the day for relaxation and anxiety, my husband, who works many hours and often has difficulty falling asleep, takes a little more at night to go to sleep. I make my own to be sure it is organic but you can buy the glycerine kind from Etsy.
Janice (5 Minutes for Mom) says
Thank you so much for these great ideas! I wish I had made one of these when my son was younger. He is now almost 13 but I am going to put together a “teen friendly” kit for him. He has struggled with ADHD, ODD, Anxiety Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder his entire life. I so often fail parenting him during his meltdowns and lose it to my OWN anxiety. I think I will ALSO make a kit for myself! Thanks!
I LOVE this. I have come back to this page several times, as I have a 4 year old with special needs that I think could really benefit from this. However, I’m struggling with coming up with childproof ideas to put in… my daughter is 4, with ADHD and FAS, and puts everything in her mouth. She would chew through the sensory balls. Books, photo album, and soft blanket/stuffed animal are a great idea. Anyone have any additional ideas? Thank you!
The I-Spy tube and kaleidoscope would likely work for her as well as maybe some store-bought fidget toys. We’ve found some fidget toys that are really durable and hold up against being chewed. Hopefully, others will chime in with some additional ideas.
Hi there..Is there somewehere on the website that explains how to use the items from the anxiety kit? Thanks!!!
Thank you for this awesome information!
Laurie Paolini says
Hi! Thank you for this idea! Both my 19yr old daughter and her 23yr old boyfriend suffer with panic and anxiety disorders and ADD. My daughter’s ADD interferes with day to day tasks and completing anything she has to do. Since public school no longer accepts 18yr old students into school she has to finish her senior year of schooling online, making it even more difficult for her at home. They’re both still living with me since the idea of being out on their own is too overwhelming for them. He’s been out of work on extended short term disability for at least 9mths now because the psychologist is struggling to get his medications adjusted right. I think I’ll make 1 or 2 of these boxes for them.
I’m severely allergic to lavender (get migraines) so we tend to use spices like vanilla and brown sugar to help relax us. Baking cookies was always an enjoyable time in the kitchen so it stirs good calming vibes in our house.
These last few days I started to suspect that my mom has Alzheimer’s Disease and maybe even another form of Dementia as well. She has other psychological and neurological disorders that have made it difficult see the signs and symptoms until now. Being in a rehab facility for a back fusion that went awry I’ve become her financial and medical POA. It’s given me a different view off her doings, or should I say the undone things that she’s tried to hide from everyone. I’ve contacted her neurologist but I’m going to make a box with the vanilla and brown sugar spices instead of lavender for her as well. (She also gets the migraines from lavender.) I’m also going to add scripture passages for her as well. I put a daily Bible app and access to Joyce Meyer sermons (she loves listening to her) but she has had no interest in accessing them or the various puzzles, word finds, cross word puzzles, and Sudoku she’s liked over the last couple decades. I think scripture passages and quotes from JM could help. I’ll also use the music of the girl groups from the 50’s and 60’s because she always sang and danced along to their music while cleaning when I was a kid. She seems withdrawn to the time of a young adult or even a child at times, hallucinates, and flip flops what people said in conversations with her. She’s having trouble speaking and smacks her mouth and lips together.
I feel horrible that I didn’t see things earlier but I started losing my sight quickly starting in 2011. Not being able to see has made it difficult to pick up many things. After talking with a couple of her closest friends and seeing her mail I have a better picture of my mom’s situation.
Again, thanks for posting this!
I hope that the situation with your mother and your daughter improve. That sounds tough. There are some CDs called Scripture Lullabies that might be good to add. My daughter really is soothed by them.
Alcohol Addiction says
Wonderful tips! Children often suffer from emotional trauma and feel that no one cares them. In that cases, they start feeling some anxiety problems. Hope, using the above kits, the problem can be diminished.
What a fantastic idea, I can really see this being helpful. And once someone is really familiar with the items and how they work for them maybe some smaller items could be taken in a pocket for use away from home, at school or an activity club. I know of adults having great results with a pebble in the pocket as a grounding device, this could be an extension of that.
Thank you for posting this information. I have been dealing with this with my nine year old son since he was three years old.