Calm Down Box

Calm Down Box Dragons and Dragonflies

As a classroom teacher, I found it useful to have items in the room that students could use when feeling mad or upset.  Teaching students to learn to control and manage their emotions in a healthy way was very empowering for them.  These items were often specifically intended for the use of just one or two students, but across the board, I found that the majority of students benefited from them at times.  We all occasionally need an outlet for big emotions!

As a parent, I found that my own children needed a way to manage their emotions as well.  I was tired of stomping feet, slamming doors, and toys being thrown across the room.  My children needed an alternative.  I made a trip to Walmart, a Pharmacy, and a couple of different Dollar Stores and about $40 later, our Calm Down Box was complete.

How We Use Our Calm Down Box

After the children helped to plan and assemble the box, we sat down together to talk about the contents one-by-one.  I was clear on my expectations of how to use each item.  We practised using each item correctly.  We practised putting all of the items back in the box nicely.  We talked about when are appropriate times to use the Calm Down Box and role-played some scenarios.  Children may need hands-on guidance the first few times they use it.  Learning to manage emotions in different ways will take time, and children will need support as they learn.

We put the box in one of the bedrooms where it was easily accessible without help.  The first week of having the box, my children were eager to start using it.  They would exaggerate their emotions, claiming that they were very mad or upset and that they needed to use the box.  I allowed this exploration for a short while each time, and then encouraged them to put the items away and save it for a time that they really needed it.  Eventually, the novelty wore off, and my children started to use the box when they truly needed it.

Contents of the Calm Down Box

There are many different items that can be included.  Pick items that will involve a variety of senses.  Things to look at, touch, smell, and hear.  Consider things that will use both fine and gross motor areas of the body.  Avoid any items that are overstimulating or that will cause frustration.  It may be helpful to consult the child/children using the box. What kinds of things do they think will help them calm down when upset?  What would they like to try?  Involve the child as much as possible in the planning, shopping, and putting together the box so that there is a sense of ownership and pride in the box.

Items in Our Calm Down Box

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Notebooks and Markers:  Many children find it useful to draw about their feelings, especially if they have a hard time expressing themselves verbally.  Some children just find writing or drawing to be a serene, calming experience.  Our box was intended for the use of two children, so I included a special notebook for each of them and a variety of pencils and markers.

Small bin of Lego:  My children enjoy Lego, so I knew a small container of simple bricks would occupy their minds and hands, and would be a quiet activity.  We already had tons of Lego at home, so I just bought the small container, and filled it with a small selection of regular bricks.


Discovery Bottle:

Some people use a specific calm down jar that just uses glitter.   It is relaxing for children to watch the glitter slowly swirl and then settle to the bottom.  These types of bottles can also be used as a timer for a time-out session.

I wanted a more interactive and distracting activity, so I made a Discovery Bottle instead.  It has glitter, but it also has a variety of small objects.  The children enjoy slowly turning the bottle in their hands, and discovering all of the small items inside and finding their favourite things.

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Tangrams:  One of my children enjoys playing with Tangrams.  He can easily create different shapes and figures and it is a quiet activity for him.  My other son has a lot of difficulty with Tangrams.  Once, while using the Calm Down Box, I could hear that he was getting more upset, instead of less!  When I went to check on him, he was trying to use the Tangrams to make a square, but was frustrated and could not do it.  Oops – This defeated the purpose of having them in the box.  In order to make Tangrams a sucessful activity for him as well, I included some printouts of Tangram solutions so that he could follow the instructions to make various things.  Eventually, I plan to put Tangram solutions on large index cards, laminate, and attach together with a ring so they can be a permanent addition to our box.

Playdough: Squishing and pounding playdough is a great sensory activity and can be very therapeutic, helping to release some frustration or anger.  Creative children may find it relaxing to build and sculpt something.  Our box has two small containers of playdough, one for each child using it.  I instructed the children to use the playdough on the lid of the Calm Down Box, so that it would not get squished into the carpet.

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Soft Foam Balls:  Sometimes, when you’re mad, you just want to throw something!  At least, my 6 year old does!  The purpose of these very soft balls was to give him something safe to throw.  Our rule is: Only throw the balls against the closed door!  On his own, my son made a craft target and taped it to the back of his bedroom door.  Perfect!

Worry Stones:

I picked these Worry Stones, (also called Palm Stones or Thumb Stones), from a Pharmacy.  These smooth, polished gemstones fit easily in your palm with an indentation to rub with your thumb.  The repetitive rubbing of the smooth, cool, stone can provide relaxation and anxiety relief.

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Pipe Cleaners:   The addition of Pipe Cleaners to our box was at the request of my 6 year old.  He thought that twisting and bending them and scrunching them up would help him when he was mad.  My own suggestion was a notepad that he could rip pages out of and then crumple into a ball, but he thought the pipe cleaners were a better choice.  I agree!  They can be straightened out again after use and don’t waste paper.  The kids seem to respond well to them and they are a cheap alternative to a fidget toy.

Texture/Massage Balls and Stress Squeeze Balls:

A variety of different texture balls can provide a soothing tactile experience and sensory input.  I included softer balls that could be rolled around in the hands, a ball with very hard spikes that could be rolled on the legs, and two types of squeeze balls (one with a sand-type material, the other with some type of gel).

Pinwheel and Bubbles:

Taking slow, deep breaths is a fast and easy way to calm the body and provides a distraction.  Regular instruction and guidance on deep breathing is useful, but children often forget to use this skill without a prompt.  A pinwheel and very small bottles of bubbles will encourage them to take a few breaths in a fun way.



Other Ideas of Things to Include:

  • small selection of books
  • small stuffed animal
  • cards illustrating Yoga poses, Stretches or simple exercises
  • cards illustrating deep breathing techniques
  • items with a calming scent, like Lavender
  • scarves or handkerchiefs to toss into the air
  • small ‘light up’ balls with a LED light inside
  • eye mask (sleeping mask)
  • bubble wrap to pop
  • fidget toys
  • colouring books
  • noise reducing headphones
  • a small puzzle
  • a cup or a mini bottle of water, to encourage having a drink
  • small musical instruments to shake
  • family photographs
  • small box of mints
  • CD’s of classical music or nature sounds

Let me know what other great ideas you come up with to include in your box! 🙂