Free Tools for Teaching Children to Calm (self-regulation)

I’ve seen a lot of conversations among occupational therapists recently in online forums about tools for teaching children skills such as calming, self-regulation, mindfulness, and other similar skills.  I’ve been collecting online ideas and have researched many suggestions, and now I wanted to share what I found.

I focused on free online resources.  There are many paid resources and programs available, but I wanted to focus on what parents could easily do at home (and what therapists could easily use in therapeutic settings).

 

Best resources for toddlers and preschoolers:

Daniel Tiger- When You Feel So Mad That You Want to RoarDaniel Tiger

Elmo Belly Breathing Song (Common and Colbie Caillat)Elmo belly breathing song

iPad app- Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame Street by Sesame Street

  • Free, no ads
  • Teaches problem-solving, self-control, planning, and task persistence.
  • Gives 5 scenarios and lets kids practice working through them. It gives verbal guidance about how emotions feel, then practices a strategy to self-calm and problem solve (breathe, think, do).  You get to tap the monster to have him breathe slowly, then touch to pop bubbles to think of a plan.
  • Great for younger children.  Basic skills with verbal cues that parents can then use in daily life to help children cope.

iPad app- Settle Your Glitter by Momentous Institute

  • Free, no ads
  • Kid focused, appropriate even for younger children.
  • You start by shaking the iPad to get the glitter moving, then holding still and watching it settle (if you move, the glitter slowly keeps moving as well). It asks you before and after how you feel, which is a nice touch to build self-awareness and monitor tools effectiveness of self-calming.
  • Not sure a child would be able to do alone, needs adult guidance and instruction for effectiveness.

YouTube videos- Cosmic Kids YogaCosmic kids logo

  • Free online, appropriate for school and therapy settings.
  • A great selection of kids yoga, done through story telling.
  • Very engaging for preschoolers and elementary school-aged children.
  • Each story include mindfulness and breathing techniques for calming.

iPad app- Kaleidoscope Drawing Pad by Bejoy Mobile

  • Free, with in-app purchases and ads (top banner ad, a few full screen ads) (or for $0.99 without ads)
  • Not a specific breathing or mindfulness app, but could be used in a therapy session to teach skills. You draw on the screen and it creates a kaleidoscope drawing.  You can play your drawing back, so the slower you draw, the slower the video will play back.  The visual would be nice feedback for a child about how fast they are moving.
  • This app would also have some fine motor and visual motor applications for OTs, as well as working on basic cause-effect play.

    app screen shot

    Draw by touching screen, then play back creation

iPad app- Relax App- Relaxation Music, Melodies and white noise ambience for mindfulness meditation by Raymond NG

  • Free, with in-app purchases
  • I have mixed feelings about the free version- the ads are annoying and distracting- full screen, lengthy (no ad costs additional $1.99)
  • Once past the ads, the app is a colorful screen that adds movement to the image when the screen is touched, while there is quiet background music playing. A nice visual for children as they learn about the speed of their bodies.  However, the ads constantly interrupt!
  • This app would also have some fine motor and visual motor applications for OTs, as well as working on basic cause-effect play.

 

Best resources for school-aged children:

GoNoodle.comgonoodle logo

  • Free website for educators, but can be used by parents or therapists as well.  Have to create an account and log-in, then it tracks usage and progress.
  • Has many features (lots of short videos that encourage movement and brain breaks)
  • Has a calming section with breathing exercises- lots of variety of ideas in short videos, providing both auditory and visual guidance for children. Other helpful videos are scattered throughout, like an anxiety-relieving one in the stretching category that teaches breathing techniques.  There are also a selection of children’s yoga videos that also encourage mindfulness and breathing.
  • Has options for younger children, as well as school-aged children. Can be used by individual kids or in a group setting.

“Just Breathe” by Julie Bayer- a child friendly explanation of feeling angry and mad with basic brain info, then coping techniques.

Little Flower Yoga YouTube ChannelLittle Flower yoga

  • Has a selection of short videos with verbal and auditory guidance for children with child-friendly and engaging topics (e.g., robots). Best for younger children overall.
  • Relaxation, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and yoga.

iPad app- Smiling Mind by Smiling Mind, free (also has an Android app)

  • Free, no ads
  • Teaches mindfulness from ages 7 to adult. You select a program based on age, then it has a series of exercises for mindfulness that it guides you through while tracking progress.
  • Verbal guidance to exercises, but boring screen. May not have enough feedback or interest for some children.
  • To log in it requires personal info, which is concerning when it is designed for children.

iPad app- OMG. I Can Meditate! Meditation and Mindfulness Techniques Made Easy! By OMG. I Can Meditate! Inc.

  • Free, with in-app purchases. You get many free meditations, then options to buy more.
  • 10-15 minute meditations, has a child area with meditations sorted by age groups. I was impressed with the meditations for children, they are specific and age appropriate, as well as appropriately paced.
  • Verbal guidance through mediation, screen is a static water image.
  • Also has a YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/OMGICanMeditate/videos

iPad app- Breathing Bubbles by Momentous Institute, free (no ads)

  • Kid focused, appropriate even for younger children.
  • Simple, calming visual image. You select to receive a joy or release a worry, then you can type it into a bubble that will float away or towards you.  It asks you before and after how you feel, which is a nice touch to build self-awareness and monitor tools effectiveness of self-calming.
  • Not sure a child would be able to do alone, needs adult guidance and instruction for effectiveness

 

Best resources for teenagers (and adults):

UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center- free guided meditations.

  • High quality program through a research center. Currently have to play audio from their website (iTunes not working per their website)
  • Simple black screen, with auditory cues for guided meditations.
  • Would be good for adults or older children, but not engaging enough for younger children.

iPad app- Mindshift by Anxiety Disorders Association of British Colombia, free (website)

  • A tool set for older children and adults with anxiety. It has educational materials about anxiety and specific kinds of anxiety.  It has guided tools, including mindfulness and breathing techniques.
  • Focuses cognitive behavioral techniques with an aim at motivated adults and teenagers. Would be hard for children to use.  Good independent tool, but not likely to be used in therapy session (but good for home program ideas).

    app screen shot

    App options

I don’t like to focus on negative reviews, but a few more notes in hopes that other may have input to help:

  • They make some children’s apps that use a microphone to hear you breathe and then give a visual response on the screen.  I tried several and never got anything to work well for me.
    • Blow a Balloon iPad app by Kobi Snir- large ads blocks the screen, some inappropriate ads for children, balloon only worked intermittently for me
    • Breathing Lab iPad apps- requires a headset with microphone to work, apps are free but you have to buy the headset.  Anyone tried this?
    • iPad app Duckie Deck Huff n’ Puff by Duckie Deck Development, $2.99- I’ve heard good things, anyone tried this one with good results?
    • iPad app Pinwheels Real: Realistic and Cool – Blow It! By Thetis Consulting, $1.99- I’ve heard good things, anyone tried this one with good results?

Have a suggestion that didn’t make my list?  Send me a message and I will update as I get more ideas!

 

Looking for some non-electronic ideas?

Paige Hays is an occupational therapist who provides in-home, pediatric occupational therapy services in the south metro area of the Twin Cities, MN. She is a mother of 2 girls, avid DIYer, and a highly skilled and experienced OT. She specializes in working in pediatrics, with diverse expertise ranging from cognition and sensory issues to working with children with neuromuscular disabilities or complex medical needs.  www.paigehays.net