As parents and caregivers, we’re hard-wired to respond to our children’s cries with efforts to comfort and soothe. Nothing is more frustrating, however, than when our efforts fall short—and our child spirals into a meltdown. What can help? In a few words: a calm-down kit.
A calm down kit is simply a collection of objects and items to help children cope with their emotions in a positive and safe manner. Also known as sensory integration boxes or toolkits, each calm-down kit can look a little different, depending on the needs and interests of your child. Of course, you can buy preassembled calm-down kits online, but your kit won’t have the magical ingredients that can comfort your child (aka, the objects and items your child loves), and often, these kits don’t take into account things like ages and sensory needs.
How, then, can you create your own calm-down kit to soothe your child’s sensory system during a meltdown? Here’s a breakdown of what to include—and how and when to use the kit.
What to include in your kit
As a parent or caregiver, you know your child best. Ask yourself these helpful questions:
- What soothes your child when restless?
- What usually calms your child down?
- What does your child like to do?
- What are your child‘s favorite items?
Gather together an assortment of items generated from the questions above, along with objects that cater to various senses, such as sight, sound, touch, and taste. For instance, you might include:
- A weighted or soft blanket, which can help kids who respond well to deep pressure receptors.
- Fidget toys that can occupy the mind and fingers by giving kids something on which to focus.
- Noise cancelling headphones, which can provide the peace and quiet kids need during a sensory meltdown or outburst to calm their bodies.
- Bubbles, which can help kids take deep breaths for relaxation, without realizing it.
- Chew toys to provide oral sensory support and help some children focus and manage feelings of anxiety and sensory overload.
- A stress ball to squeeze and release anger and overwhelming feelings.
- Plastic baggies full of various materials like kinetic sand, oatmeal, pasta, pine nuts, or rice, which can satisfy cravings for tactile stimulation.
How to use the calm-down kit
Once you have the items, place them in a backpack or cloth bag, and take the kit with you in your car or on the go. Then, once a sensory meltdown starts, use the items either to refocus your child’s attention and lessen the magnitude of the meltdown after it begins. Keep in mind, too, that you can use the kit anytime, even during typical downtime. Using the calm-down kit during downtime will serve as practice and enable your child to figure out what items help in times of distress.
Again, the goal of the calm-down kit is to give kids the tools they need to transform their inner state from upset to calm. These kits can make all the difference, not only for your child but also for you, as a parent or caregiver.
Want to learn more about sensory issues? Listen to our podcast, “How Lighting Can Affect Your Circadian Rhythm,“ on All Autism Talk.