Inside: 7 Mindful and Sensory Activities to Help Kids Regulate Emotions and Re-Center when they are worried, upset, or mad. Sensory activities help your child transition to a state of play. Perfect brain breaks after e-learning as well.
Anxiety in children can look like many things. It can look like anger, sadness, grumpiness, self-doubt, or even a bad mood that your child can’t seem to shake. Big emotions like these are a normal part of childhood as children are still developing emotion regulation. Most of the time, these big emotions will come and go and kids bounce back happy to go on with their day.
But what about when the bad mood seems to stick, when your child can’t seem to stop worrying, or when tantrums are frequent and intense? This can be an indication that your child is feeling some stress or underlying anxiety.
A great way to help kids with anxiety is to bolster up their sense of self so they can distance themselves from their feelings. I talk more about that here: 11 Ways to Help Kids Re-Center: Strengthen Your Child’s Sense of Self, Fix Bad Moods, and Reduce Anxiety. One of the best ways to help kids re-center when they are feeling worried or upset is to engage them in sensory play which is naturally immersive and mindful.
7 Mindful and Sensory Activities to Help Kids Regulate Emotions and Re-Center
Mindful or Sensory activities, or re-centering activities, are the perfect way to help kids get out of a bad mood, stop a cycle of worry, or move from anger to a place of better regulation.
Immersive activities like these can help your child transition from feeling upset or worried to a state of flow. Being in a state of flow is when you are completely absorbed in an activity for its own sake. It is when you are immersed in the present moment without even thinking about it.
Flow states occur when your child is deeply absorbed in play. This is when they discover new things, increase their exploration, and even work through stressors they may feel. Play is therapeutic for kids. Sometimes they need a little help getting there and that is where sensory and mindful activities can help kids get back into that state of flow.
These are also great activities to use as brain breaks or to move from e-learning to playtime.
1. Go on a Sensory Scavenger Hunt. I love this activity because it helps kids re-discover their environment with their five senses in a fun way. It also helps kids ground themselves in what they like to see, smell, feel, listen to, and taste. I asked my son how he felt after doing the scavenger hunt, and he said, “I feel happy because I found my place in the world.” That is exactly the idea to transition to a more grounded place, a place from which they can play and explore. (Get a free printable below!)
This mental health scavenger hunt is another fun way to help your child re-center. With things like getting a hug, doing a favorite yoga pose, and finding a photo of a favorite memory, this scavenger hunt is another way to help kids out of their worries and into exploring their environment.
2. Make some Chamomile Essential Oil Scented Slime or some Lavender Essential Oil Scented Slime. Tactile activities are a great way to help kids become immersed in an activity. These slime recipes are multi-sensory because they have the added bonus of calming aromatherapy.
If you have a younger child who wants to eat slime, you can try an edible version like this Edible Banana Marshmallow Pudding Slime. Again, this is multi-sensory; it is tactile, but kids can also taste it.
3. Get frustrations and worries out with these DIY Emoji Squishies! These are the perfect additions to a calm-down spot or to use alone. I love these because not only will children learn to identify emotions, but their squishiness makes them tactile and sensory.
When my son was a toddler, we had small plush emojis, and it was the perfect tool to help him out of a tantrum. We started with identifying the emotions and then ended with throwing them around and playing with the “silly” emoji.
If your child really loves the tactile nature of these, then making your own DIY Stress Balls with Emotion Faces is another great sensory activity. These add essential oils to make Aromatherapy Stress Balls.
4. Make a Sensory Garden. Gardening is known to provide a psychological boost by reducing stress and increasing positive emotions. One reason is that gardening lends itself to being in the moment and in a state of flow. Some research even shows that digging in dirt increases serotonin levels in the brain.
My son loves to rearrange and plant things in his fairy garden. Another version is this Sensory Play Garden, or even this sandbox that has a small garden attached, which will provide hours of sensory and immersive play for your child. For an indoor version, I love this Montessori Peace Tray. This is like a zen rock garden for kids. This is such an easy and lovely way to introduce the idea of mindfulness and peacefulness to your child.
5. Make a DIY Sensory Glitter Jar. These jars are naturally captivating and engaging. If your child is upset, the glitter in the jar can represent “feeling all shook up.” Ask your child to shake up the jar, and as it settles take deep breaths. As the glitter settles in the jar, so do their feelings. For more tips, check out How a Glitter Jar Can Help Kids Control Their Feelings.
Kids will love to spend time free playing with these jars as well. Here are a few other versions that I love for mindful and sensory play:
6. Do some mindful coloring. Coloring is an activity that naturally lends itself to mindfulness. It is something you can do that is engaging, but that you don’t have to really think about, so you can be in the moment.
And coloring isn’t just for kids, research shows it reduces stress in adults. So, pick a colored pencil and join your kids for this activity!
Here are a few to try. Color and strengthen your child’s sense of self with this free 8C’s of Self-Energy coloring page, make a beautiful butterfly sun-catcher, or get out the sidewalk chalk and also share some beautiful art with your neighbors with this mosaic heart chalk activity.
7. Play in Water. Something about kids and water just takes the bad mood away. Whether it is a sensory bath with glow sticks, playing in a baby pool, running through the sprinkler, or playing at the water table, anytime you add water to your child’s play it magically becomes immersive and mindful.
We made this water table four years ago based on the tutorial here: How to Make a PVC Pipe Sand and Water Table. Kids of all ages love this, and we still get it out every summer.
For more ways to help children with emotion and self-regulation strategies, check out 7 Ways to Turn Power-Struggles and Over-Excitement into Cooperation and Joy.