There’s something surprisingly calming about working a lump of clay with your hands. In honor of National Play-Doh Day, September 16, we thought we’d show you how modeling clay and other items in a self-soothing kit can help calm an anxious or upset child.

A self-soothing kit contains items that can soothe the senses. By providing positive, soothing sensory input, the items in the kit can help redirect the brain to more positive, calmer thoughts during times of stress. Here are tips on creating a self-soothing kit for your child:

Talk with your child about her five senses:

  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Touching
  • Tasting, and
  • Smelling

Brainstorm things that appeal to her senses. Ask questions like, “What looks beautiful to you?” “What kinds of sounds make you feel happy, safe, or relaxed?” “What item or texture do you like to touch or hold?” working through each of the five senses. Make a list of her answers. Then talk about small items that you could gather and keep in a box, for the child to use when she was distressed.

For touch, a small container of Play-doh or Silly Putty, a fidget spinner, rubik’s cube, worry stone, stuffed animal, piece of soft cloth or favorite blanket might be what works for your child. You can even make homemade Play-Doh or slime with your child. Just search online for kid-friendly recipes.

Music, audio books, recordings of nature sounds or a recording of your voice reading aloud or talking to your child are good options for hearing. Maybe your child likes the sound of bells or a rainstick.

The sense of smell is said to be one of the strongest memory triggers. Essential oils, scented lotions, or small containers of spices like cinnamon can provide a soothing scent for your child. Or you could include a favorite soap, baking mix or herb. Finding a scent that brings back happy and relaxed memories can be a fun process for you to do together.

Favorite tastes can be restorative too. Herbal tea, gum, mints or hard candy are easy to include and can calm and refresh.

Photos of loved ones, pets, favorite places or happy events will provide beautiful and comforting visual input. Ask your child about what she finds beautiful or calming and then look for pictures together to include in her kit. Affirmations or supportive notes from family, friends or teachers can provide positive visual images for your child.

A bottle of bubbles can also be very calming and restorative. Blowing the bubbles involves touch and vision and causes the child to breathe slowly and carefully.

A coloring book or paper and colored pencils, markers or crayons also provide a multi-sensory calming experience. While your child is coloring and drawing, she’s creating new visual and touch sensory experiences and expressing her creativity.

There are no strict rules about what goes into a self-soothing box except that the items soothe or comfort the user and are safe for them. What goes into a box will be different for each person based on their likes and dislikes and their age. Exploring what to put in your child’s self-soothing box and assembling it together is a great project that empowers your child to manage stressful situations and gives you insight into what best helps her cope. It is also helpful to discuss with your child how to recognize situations when the kit would be useful.

by Eileen Hanning

This Article's Author

Eileen Hanning, M.Ed., has more than twenty years designing reading curriculum for underserved kids and training for their parents and social service providers about reading and child development. Her passion for children’s books and hands-on learning has lead her to review children’s books, learn, research and write about education, child development and toxic stress, and to create her own consulting company, ReadLearnReach, where she serves a variety of clients with their curriculum, children’s book and writing needs.