9 essential items to keep in a calm down space
All children need to learn healthy self regulation skills.
And it is our job, as their parents and teachers to help them develop these skills. We do this by modelling healthy self regulation ourselves, and by explicitly teaching them the skills. It is our job to provide children with the specific tools and resources they need to learn self regulation. It’s also our job to help them practice these skills over and over and over again until they become second nature.
This is why I’m such a huge advocate of calm down spaces. A calm down space is a dedicated space designed to facilitate a child’s social emotional learning, and help them develop self regulation skills. If you’re not sure how to go about setting up a calm down space, or how to use one, I recommend you start with this blog post: How to Create a Calm Down Space for your Child. There you’ll also find a free printable list of ideas and suggestions of items to include in your space.
What should I put in my calm down space?
I get asked a lot of questions about calm down spaces, but “What should I put in my child’s calm down space?” is probably the one I receive most frequently. And in all honesty, it’s a hard question to answer, because the list of possibilities is almost endless. All children will have their own unique preferences, because all children have their own unique nervous systems.
However, there are a few basics I recommend you always start with. They fall into 4 categories: items that provide comfort; items that engage the senses; items that engage the mind; and items that calm the body or allow for regulation through movement. And for those of you wondering what specific items we include in our own space at home, here is a run down of what’s in our daughter Norah’s calm down space, at age 3.
1. Mindful Little Calm Down Kit
Of course, the very first thing we include in our calm down space is the printable Mindful Little Calm Down Kit (sold here). This kit forms the foundation of our calm down space. It includes feelings charts, mindful breathing posters, the What Can I do? Poster and card set, calming strategies, feelings cards, mindful breathing exercises, mindful breathing boards, mindful colouring pages, and an extensive instruction manual that walks you through setting up and using your calm down space. You can use as many or as few of the printables in your space as you like. I recommend starting with just a few, especially for younger children, and then adding to the space as you go. This is what we have up on the wall for Norah currently, and it is working well for her at 3 years old.
2. Yoga Mat
The next step in setting up your calm down space is to delineate the space somehow. You can use a rug, a chair, a teepee or tent, or as we have done, a yoga mat, to create clear boundaries for the space. We love our Little Yogi Yoga Mat (sold by The Worry Doll shop here). We chose the pink star pattern, but they have a range of different patterns and colours to suit every child. They are perfectly sized for little ones (the recommended age is 0-6), and are made from a beautiful soft suede with natural rubber backing, so they are wonderfully soft under foot. But perhaps my favourite feature is its ability to be thrown into the washing machine after grubby little feet have been stomping all over it!
3. Yoga Cards
Calm down spaces should incorporate movement as much as possible, and lots of the calming strategies included in the Mindful Little Calm Down Kit are movement based. Many children require movement in order to regulate. Sadly, many don’t get nearly enough movement during the day, especially if they are school aged and spend much of their day at a desk.
Yoga is a great way to use movement in your calm down space to help kids calm their mind and body. These Yoga Cards (sold here by Mindful Munchkins) are another of Norah’s favourites. She loves to choose a card at random and is always so proud of herself when she completes the pose. The cards are amazing quality, super durable for little people (who may not be as gentle with things as we’d like), and have beautiful illustrations that kids will love. Plus, each pose has a fun name (we love Magic Carpet!) and is accompanied by a cute little rhyme that helps kids learn how to complete it correctly. They are also available as a printable if you prefer, although the downloadable set doesn’t come with the little rhymes for each pose.
Calm down spaces should also engage as many of your child’s senses as possible, and playdough is an amazing way to do this! Norah loves to squish, squeeze, roll, push and hammer her playdough and the sensory input she receives from doing this is so beneficial and calming for her! We like to keep natural, scented playdough in our space to engage the sense of touch as well as smell. There are lots of places that sell natural playdough these days, (ours is from Happy Hands Happy Heart) but of course, you can also make your own batch of playdough at home and have each of the kids choose their favourite colour and scent to add!
5. Affirmation Cards
Repeating affirmations is a great self regulation strategy and affirmation cards are another must have resource for all calm down spaces. Affirmations can help shift negative thinking that keeps kids stuck in a dysregulated state, and can be used as a gentle reminder – to breathe, that the feeling will pass, and that your child has a range of strategies at hand that will help them calm down.
We have several sets of affirmation cards in our house, that we use at various times. But at the moment, Norah is loving her Affirmation and Wellbeing Cards (sold here by Kind Words for Kids). These cards are beautifully smooth and shiny, the perfect size for little hands and include affirmations to suit just about any situation! Our favourite affirmation to use in the calm down space right now is “I focus on my breathing to relax my body and mind”. I also love that the illustrations on these cards are super inclusive. They feature children from a range of different cultural and racial backgrounds as well as children with different physical appearances and abilities.
6. Mind Jar
I never met a child that didn’t love a mind jar! This is another great sensory tool for kids that encourages mindfulness and calms the mind and body. Norah loves shaking hers up and will lie on the floor and watch the glitter swirling around for ages! They are quite mesmerising. We made these jars several years ago now (the one in the pic used to be my older daughters) and they are still going strong. For instructions to make your own, check out this post on Instagram. There are also instructions included in the Mindful Little Calm Down Kit. And if creating your own from scratch isn’t really your thing, or sourcing the materials is a bit difficult for you right now, then we’ve got you covered! Check out these amazing DIY kits in the shop that include everything you need to create your own. Couldn’t be easier!
7. Be Buddy
Norah LOVES her Be Buddy (sold here by Balancing Elephants) and I recommend these little critters to everyone I meet! The Be Buddy is a multi-sensory calming tool, and the perfect resource for your calm down space. We have Hamm the Pig but the Be Buddy is available in a range of different characters, each with their own unique little personalities that your kids are sure to love. They are weighted to provide calming proprioceptive input, scented with lavender and include a smooth, soft backing that feels lovely to touch. Norah loves to use the feathers on the top of Hamm to practice her mindful breathing – she knows she has it right when she is able to make the feathers move with her breath!
Norah loves to read, and we keep a range of books in her calm down space, which we change up as we need to. Currently though, we have four in her basket, which she loves. We read When I’m Feeling Sad and When I’m Feeling Angry when she feels sad or angry. Calm with The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a short and sweet little book that encourages kids to recognise their feelings and practice breathing strategies. And of course, ABC Yoga is another fun option for practicing yoga!
9. A favourite teddy
The last thing to keep in your calm down space is a comfort item. Something your child can cuddle or touch that provides them with a sense of safety and security. Norah likes to keep her favourite teddy in her space, but your child might prefer a lovey, a security blanket, or a snuggly cushion, and these will all work well also.
I hope that gives you some ideas for setting up your own calm down space! But please remember, as I mentioned earlier, that all children are different. They all have different nervous systems and different sensory needs, and what works for one child or in one situation, may not work for another child or in another situation. So just try things! If it doesn’t work out, try something different. And keep trying until you find out what works for your unique child!
Sarah is a psychologist, mama of 4 and the creator of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents and families experiencing mental health problems and has a special interest in anxiety disorders in children. In her spare time she enjoys hugging her kids, drinking coffee, and telling anyone who’ll listen how tired she is.