Research shows teaching calm down strategies for preschoolers is one of the most important things you can do for their social and emotional development.
Not only do coping skills help them through big feelings, but they also empower little ones with a sense of self-control and confidence as problem-solvers.
Teaching your preschooler developmentally-appropriate calming techniques takes patience, buy-in, and time on both parts. But with these three things in place, you will be able to support your child in learning to regulate their emotions.
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- What are calm down strategies for preschoolers?
- 11 Realistic Calm Down Strategies to Teach Your Preschooler
- The last thing you need to know about calm down strategies for preschoolers
What are calm down strategies for preschoolers?
A calm down strategy is a coping skill that helps children to regulate their emotions.
Calming strategies may require the use of an object (e.g., sensory tool), physical activity (e.g., deep breathing), or a shift in thinking (e.g., mindfulness technique).
When should I teach calm down strategies to my child?
Children rely on the co-regulation of their emotions with the direct support of a caregiver as infants and toddlers. However, it is never too early to model healthy ways to cope with feelings.
By preschool age, most children are ready to begin taking some ownership over calm down strategies. Please note that young children will still need lots of adult support in learning new coping skills, figuring out when to use them, and identifying what works best.
How do I teach my preschooler to calm down?
How we introduce calming strategies to our preschoolers significantly impacts their success in using them. As a former professional school counselor and certified positive discipline parent educator, I encourage you to:
- Teach calming strategies first when kids are calm.
- Frame calming strategies as an opportunity, not a punishment.
- Offer calming strategies as a choice, rather than a demand.
- Provide visual cues of calming strategies.
- Create a timeout alternative with your child, such as a designated calming space or calm down kit.
- Remember that calming strategies are not a substitute for caregiver love and support!
How do you calm a hyper preschooler?
Calm down strategies can help preschoolers through big emotions, including:
At the same time, we must hold realistic expectations when we’re talking about young children and their emotions.
The brain’s prefrontal cortex helps us decipher “right” from “wrong,” think rationally, and regulate our emotions and does not fully develop until around age 25. And even then, many adults still struggle in these areas!
Furthermore, some children naturally have more energy and as a result, a more challenging time self-regulating.
As caregivers, we can provide ample positive outlets for this energy (e.g., lots of free play and time outdoors) and intervene early with calming strategies when we see big emotions bubbling up.
Tip: Focus on what is in your control
You CANNOT control:
- Your child’s innate temperament.
- Your child’s feelings.
- Your child’s developmental capacity for emotional regulation.
- Ultimately, your child’s behavior.*
*If you are new to positive discipline, I realize this can sound shocking! Positive (authoritative) parenting is neither authoritarian nor permissive. It does not condone using fear or rewards to coerce/control children’s behavior. At the same time, positive parents uphold limits and boundaries and allow natural consequences to unfold.
**If you are interested in learning more about positive parenting tools that support healthy social and emotional development, I invite you to take my free 30-day challenge.
What are effective calm down strategies?
Before we dive into my top 11 calming strategies for preschoolers, here are the most important factors that influence how effective a coping skill will be.
Calm down strategies for preschoolers should:
- Be developmentally appropriate
- Match the child’s unique interests
- Match the child’s skills and abilities
- Require minimal to no setup time
- Be easily transportable (moving to a new location often has a calming effect)
- Be safe (use good judgment and avoid heavy/hard objects if your preschooler struggles with aggressive behavior when angry or upset)
Where can I find a visual calm down strategies PDF?
Visuals are essential for empowering preschoolers to remember and take ownership of their calming strategies!
Here are a few of my favorite visual tools for young children. Each set of visual calming strategies comes in a PDF format so you can quickly print and begin using them with your child or students!
11 Realistic Calm Down Strategies to Teach Your Preschooler
#1: Hug it Out
Never underestimate the power of a good hug. Science says so!
We can start by offering hugs as a calming choice. As they grow, we can empower kids to self-advocate and ask for hugs when they need them.
However, not every dysregulated child will respond positively to hugs or physical touch. Always use your discretion, ask first, and choose strategies that work well for your child.
If your child is not a hugger, or you work in a professional setting where hugs are not an option, consider offering a small comfort item instead.
I love these weighted, therapeutic stuffed animals as an alternative to caregiver hugs:
#2: Take a walk
If there’s one (and only one) good thing I will say about traditional, punitive timeouts is the location change. Helping your child step away from the circumstance that triggered their big feelings is essential.
Going for a walk is an excellent calming strategy for high-energy kids who like to be in control or are always on the go.
If you’re taking a walk outside together to cool off, allow your child to choose the route.
When kids experience big emotions they feel out of control. By slowly regaining control in a new setting, they will begin to calm down.
#3: Deep breathing
In my personal and professional experience, telling a young child to take deep breaths rarely works! Instead, we need to show them how.
Blowing bubbles, deep breathing into a pinwheel, or inhaling/exhaling in tandem with a breathing ball visually reinforces deep breaths for preschoolers.
Trust me, introducing fun toys is so much more effective than telling kids what to do!
The slower and deeper your preschooler breaths, the longer their pinwheel will spin!
Preschoolers LOVE 4E’s breathing ball! Show them how to expand the ball as they inhale and contract it as they exhale.
#4: Play a game
Remember, we are talking about preschoolers here. Most coping skills will still require your support, and in many cases, active participation.
Games are an excellent opportunity to first connect, then correct under positive discipline.
Let’s face it: Lecturing an upset child does not work.
By temporarily shifting gears, we can help preschoolers to calm their bodies and minds, putting them in an optimal place for collaborative problem-solving.
Here are a few of my favorite games that function as calm down strategies for preschoolers.
You can also find a complete list of over 30 of our favorite family games below:
#5: Build something
Creative play is a proven way to calm the body and mind.
Any blocks or building sets your child loves will work great! Here are a few of my preschool favorites:
#6: Use a sensory tool
Sensory toys are a great way to help preschoolers release energy and cope with big emotions.
Many children, particularly those with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), may engage in challenging behavior as a way to gain or avoid stimuli.
Sensory processing tools help kids fulfill their sensory needs and healthily regulate emotions.
As a former school counselor, I have so many favorite sensory tools that have helped my students persevere through challenging moments:
Simply asking an upset child to count to 10 may not do much for emotional regulation. Instead, dig deeper and try asking them to:
- Find 5 objects in the room that are blue.
- Find 4 objects in the room shaped like a rectangle.
- Name 3 of their favorite foods.
- Give you 2 facts about their favorite book/TV show character.
- Tell you 1 thing they like to do in cold weather.
You get the picture! This “next level” style of counting not only piques their interest but requires deeper focus.
Note: Please use this technique to help calm a dysregulated child and not to indefinitely distract them from the core issue.
Once calm, you can engage in a collaborative conversation and help your child build their problem-solving skills!
Reading works wonders as a tantrum tamer in our home!
When emotions are running high, simply open a book and begin reading.
Be sure to leave an inviting space on the couch or floor. You’ll be amazed at who might just pop up next to you.
By modeling this effective calm down strategy, kids will learn to reach for a book as they grow and mature.
Picture-only and search-and-find style books work great as well for preschoolers who are ready for more independent calming strategies:
Is your child a daydreamer? Are they imaginative and creative? Do they love to pretend play?
If so, you can teach them how to mindfully use the power of thought to get through challenging moments.
As a school counselor, I often asked my students to tell me about their favorite place in the entire world. Sometimes it was a favorite family vacation spot, their bedroom, or someplace they had never been!
I would ask them to close their eyes and imagine they were there. Then, I would slowly introduce creative prompts to explore their 5 senses:
- What can you see?
- What can you hear?
- What can you taste?
- What can you smell?
- What can you touch?
Many caregivers value the concept of mindfulness, but the thought of actually doing it sounds overwhelming.
I get it! I felt the same way before I had loads of on-the-job practice.
I put together a beginner-friendly mindfulness script for parents and educators looking to dip their toes into kid-friendly guided meditation.
I give you the exact words. All you have to do is read and relax!
#10: Listen to music
Preschoolers can become overstimulated throughout the day, often resulting in big emotions. Music can be an excellent tool to withdraw from screens or baby siblings’ screams.
The right music can help all of us embrace a moment of peace!
My 4-year-old likes to wear his headphones when he needs a break from his baby sister. He can choose from a list of pre-selected Pandora stations, which I play for him via Bluetooth from my cell phone.
For some children, music could still be too much stimulation. In this instance, a pair of noise-canceling/reduction headphones may be a better option.
#11: Take on a helping job
Asking a child for their help is a surprisingly impactful calming strategy we often overlook as caregivers.
Taking on a helping role is particularly beneficial for kids battling intense worry or anxiety. Feeling valued and important can fuel confidence and courage.
Simple helping jobs for preschoolers include:
- Helping to prepare a meal (kids love pouring and stirring!)
- Setting the table or folding napkins
- Sorting laundry
- Taking care of pets (e.g., feeding, brushing)
- Delivering an item to another family member
The last thing you need to know about calm down strategies for preschoolers
Calm down strategies for preschoolers begin with us as parents and caregivers.
We must practice conscious, positive parenting to be the calm through the storm of our children’s big emotions.
It isn’t always easy, particularly if you are trying to parent differently than how you were raised.
Know that your child’s social and emotional development is so worth it.
As a fellow parent in the thick of these early years, I’d be honored to support your journey.
To learn more about a positive approach to parenting, join me in Such a Little While’s free 30-day positive parenting challenge.
You’ve got this!