As a mom to a 4- and 6-year-old, I am very familiar with chaos, tantrums, and big emotions. These are my favorite ways to help my kids find some zen.

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An illustration of a mom and her daughter practicing mindfulness.
Credit: Emma Darvick

Three years ago, I was sitting in on my 4-year-old's therapy session, trying to stay out of the way. "Pretend you're holding lemons and squeeze your hands as tight as you can," the therapist instructed. My daughter scrunched up her face and fists.

"Now open your hands and shake all the juice out!" They both danced around the office and we all giggled.

"Do you see how much calmer your body feels?" My daughter nodded. She looked calmer and more at ease.

That's when I realized that she was learning a kid's version of a regulation tool I had been practicing for years: mindfulness. It made me wonder which other strategies I could adapt for my young kids. I soon left my career as a nurse and pursued a new passion as a children's mindfulness coach and yoga teacher. I now teach children calm-down strategies and give parents tools to incorporate mindfulness and regulation skills at home.

Since bringing mindfulness techniques into our family's routine, I have seen a significant shift. My daughters have begun to recognize and befriend their anxiety and cope more effectively. They sleep better, talk more openly about their experiences, and show empathy and resilience. I feel more successful as a parent knowing I have a plan and simple tools to use in difficult situations. Most importantly, our house has become a calmer, more emotionally safe place.

With intention, the right tools, and practice, it is possible for kids to self-soothe, regulate, and calm down during challenging moments. Here are my favorite ways to help kids calm down.

Practice Skills During Happy Times

I do my best to introduce and practice skills when my children are relaxed and happy. I weave regulation skills like mediation or deep breathing into times like bedtime. By practicing during these times, I learn which skills are the most effective and enjoyable for each child and avoid them feeling like practicing calm-down skills is a punishment for bad behavior. We keep a list of their favorite and most useful skills, and when my kids need help managing a difficult emotion, I can pull the list out and let them choose a skill they have already practiced. They feel empowered by choosing, and I feel equipped to provide them with tools that I know work for them.

Utilize Trial and Error

My kids have tried many mindfulness and calm-down skills. Some have worked like magic, and some have not worked at all. Some work for one of my children, but not the other. Being patient, trying new things, and being willing to adjust on the go is crucial.

Teach Breathing Techniques in Fun Ways

Although it seems intuitive, young children often need assistance and education to learn deep, restorative breathing. I practice the mechanics of breathing with my kids, like elongating the exhale, slowing the breath down, and breathing in until their tummies expand. I make these skills fun by using creativity. We pretend we are blowing out candles on a cake or puffing up our bellies like a balloon. When my child is upset, she is much more likely to respond to an invitation to pretend we are cooling down hot cocoa than a demand to "take a deep breath."

Engage Their Senses

One of the simplest and most effective ways to bring kids into a calm and regulated state is to engage their senses. When children are agitated, they often lose communication with the brain area that's responsible for decision-making and reason, making calming down incredibly difficult. One of the fastest and easiest ways to re-establish this communication is by using the five senses, starting with sight.

When my oldest daughter is distressed, my first move is to ask her to find as many things as she can that are purple (her favorite color). Sometimes she's too upset to engage, so I sit by her and begin. She will often join in after a minute. If she's able, we practice hearing as many sounds as possible and then noticing touch, smell, and taste. Checking in with our environment and being present helps her regulate.

Be Creative

With a little creativity, you can adapt almost all mindfulness and regulation tools to suit young kids. For example, If your child loves rainbows, change yoga's "downward dog" to "rainbow pose." Kids are natural creators and use imaginative play to process the often confusing world around them. You can use this natural inclination and engage kids with playful imagery to practice new regulation tools and process difficult emotions in a safe, imaginary place.

Use Your Resources

Trying to incorporate a new skill into your family's routine is challenging. Luckily, many excellent resources are available to guide you and your kids through this process. My favorite resources are Cosmic Kids yoga videos as well as the kid's section in mediation apps such as Insight Timer, Calm, Headspace, and the app I created, Wondergrade. I made Wondergrade to help parents teach mindfulness skills to their kids at home. In the app, I give ideas for fun, age-appropriate calm-down and mindfulness exercises, save my kids' favorites, and set reminders to practice when we are calm.