10 Activities To Relax Your Child With Special Needs
Getting your child with special needs to relax and focus can be a difficult job. There are many situations in which our children need some help to settle down. Whether your child is excited by something fun and enjoyable or something scary and unfamiliar, a calming exercise may be needed to move on to the next routine or activity.
Each child responds differently to calming activities so it is helpful to come up with a range of activities and strategies that could be calming for your child.
Here are 10 activities to build into your child’s routine and environment, which can be calming and soothing.
1. Play quiet music
Choose music that is steady and generally mellow. Music has a natural ability to filter out noises and set the mood for the environment. If your child is out in a busy environment, try noise-cancelling headphones.
2. Create a small, quiet area for your child
Sometimes children need their own personal space where they can block out the extra noise and visual distractions. This could especially work if your child tries to escape his/her current environment if overwhelmed. Try something like a small tent or create a small book area in your home that your child can easily retreat to when it is time for them to have a break.
3. Deep breathing exercises
Practice slow breathing with your child. Model slow, deep breaths for your child to imitate. If need be, teach your child to trace his/her finger in the shape of a square or figure-8 to help pace their breather.
4. Try a little yoga
The combination of slow breathing, stretching, tensing of muscles and concentration to hold a position can be centering and calming. Introduce this to your child in a fun way, such as a children’s yoga program or a DVD.
5. Go for a walk with your child
Taking a walk can help to release some of the extra energy that has been building up in your child, especially if he/she needs a break from an activity. A change in scenery and fresh air is helpful.
6. Turn out the lights
There are times that a child could be sensitive to light. In some cases, if a child is stressed or overwhelmed, turning out the lights or going into a darkened space can help bring a sense of calm and security. If you are trying to settle your child in the evening, turn down the lights as the evening routine winds down.
7. Give a bear hug, squeeze or back rub
Be careful when approaching your children to give any type of pressure, especially if he/she is sensitive to touch or startles easily.
8. Sit in a rocking chair or swing
The slow, rhythmic movement can be soothing for your child. If your child is unsure about this, you can have him/her sit on your lap while you rock to settle them in.
9. Offer your child something to drink
A drink of water or juice can be cool your child down if he/she is overheated. In some cases, drinking from a straw is also helpful because of the sucking motion, which provides some sensory input through the mouth.
10. Look for clues from the past
Think back to activities that worked to soothe your child when he/she was an infant. Often you will find clues about new activities that could be a great calming activity for your child.
When Using These Activities
Keep in mind, there may not be one activity that always works for your child. Some activities will not come naturally to your child.
Introduce and practice these activities when your child before suggesting them in a tense moment. When possible, give your child some choice in what he/she would like to do as a calming activity. Choices could be given verbally but also through visuals, like a choice board.
If your child has sensory processing challenges, a more prescribed and guided approach may be helpful. Consult with an Occupational Therapist for a more thorough assessment and program suited for your child’s needs
Esther Leung is a special needs consultant who has worked with children, youth and families. She has 15 years of experience in a variety of settings including homes, childcare, schools and recreational settings. She now lives in Chicago with her husband and 2 young boys.