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Mother hugging pacifying sad upset crying toddler boy. Family young mom and crying baby sitting on bed at home.

Ask Alli: Building Self Soothing Skills in Children

November 15, 2023-WKYC

We can all get upset, frustrated, and overwhelmed, but we have learned naturally how to calm ourselves since we were young. But how do you teach these skills to those who are neurodivergent and these type of skills don’t come naturally to?

When it comes to raising little ones meltdowns and tantrums are inevitable. Building self-soothing skills can really help in these moments, but where do we start? First, we have to understand what self-soothing and emotional regulation skills are. “These are just skills for a child to not be dependant on an adult, but to be able to handle a challenging situation and bringing themselves from being highly emotionally aroused to a more typical emotional state” states Alli. She goes on to say that it’s really important to start teaching these skills when they are at a really young age. Having these coping strategies will ensure they are more successful in kindergarten as well as later into life when they are adults in the workplace.

So where do we start? “It’s good to teach these strategies when they are not upset,” says Alli, “so we don’t want to wait when the kid is already crying or escalated and then try to teach the child to take deep breaths, it’s already too late”. Alli suggests starting with teaching them in a play-based way. Modeling with a teddy bear for instance can help. Alli says role playing with a teddy bear and saying things such as “The teddy bear is really upset! Let’s help the teddy bear take deep breaths and count to ten”. This teaches self-soothing strategies while the child is calm so they have the tools in their toolbox to utilize next time they are upset.

Another strategy could be using a calming chart. The calming chart has visuals of some strategies of what to do when they’re upset so when the moment comes they have plans of how to calm themself. Some ideas to put on the chart include read a book, do some yoga, listen to music and much more. Sensory items can also be helpful as well as fidget toys that keep the child busy and distracted from their anger. One of Alli’s favorite strategies is to use a cheap tennis ball and lima beans. You cut a small line into a tennis ball to create a slit into the ball that can resemble a smile. The lima beans can be blank or can have little smiley faces drawn on them. With each deep breath you fill the tennis ball with a bean. Once the beans are gone the child can “spill the beans” from the tennis balls mouth and repeat until they have calmed down.

If you need help with calming strategies for your child or lived one our team is here to help. Frazier Behavioral Health has Board Certified Behavioral Analysts on staff that are experts in teaching these skills to both children and parents. If parents want to learn how to carry it over when the therapist isn’t around our BCBA’s would be happy to help!

To request a consultation or connect with the experts at FBH, give them a call at 216-446-2944.

You’ll find them at 5885 Landerbrook Drive, Suite 310, Mayfield Heights, Ohio.

To watch the full segment on WKYC’s website please click here.