SEL @ Home: Self-Soothing Techniques

In addition to benefiting our health, our own self-regulation benefits our children.

Here, we've assembled a handful of ways to self check-in and self-regulate before you might snap or yell in response to feeling stress or anger; this is an especially valuable practice when the source of frustration involves children.

Consider This

Children are “emotional sponges” that can absorb and feel a caregiver’s stress regardless of what is causing it. “Matching” a child’s overwhelmed emotions–e.g. yelling or punishing–does not always work. In fact, yelling and physical punishment can lower your child’s trust in you as a safe person to open up to, and can get in the way of exploring and solving the issue at hand.

Yelling also registers with kids as a kind of attention, and defiant kids will misbehave to get attention, even if the attention is yelling. Children who are yelled at learn to respond only to yelling and don’t respond as well to reason, or to calm, rational discussion.


Pause, Assess, Self-Soothe

These activities below help build strength and capacity to be present and to communicate calmly; they vary in their approach to self-regulating, using different formats and resources, and can be used independently or together.


Make sure the young people for whom you are responsible are in a safe place, and put yourself in “time-out” for 3 minutes. This might be your bathroom! Put on a song you like and dance as if no one is watching (since they’re not!), or just breathe quietly. Also, throwing cold water on your wrists and face will bring down our temperature, which can help us cope.

MAKE A LIST: “What is real right now?”

Take a moment to get ahead of your physiological stress response (aka Fight, Flight, Freeze) by taking inventory of what is real. Make a list of “things that are real right now” (pen and paper works; a mental list is fine too)–if anything comes up that is subjective (your opinion or feeling about something) rewrite the observation as an objective (factual) statement.

Example: instead of “my child disrespected me...” write “Thomas left his dirty dish on the counter. I asked him again to pick it up.” Write the objective “real” version.

MAKE A LIST: “5-4-3-2-1” Anxiety Come-Down

Stop for a moment to assess what you perceive. Create a list of 5 things you can see, then 5 things you can hear, then smell, then taste, then feel. Repeat the sequence of observations with a list of 4 things, then 3 things, and so on down to one thing for each of your senses.

OUTREACH: Contact a Support Person

Now is the time to ask for support, and to provide it also if you feel able to be there for others. We ALL need people we can reach out to, and a safe way to express our emotions. Even a simple text message to a trusted friend, family member or fellow parent can go a long way. You can also build a support network​.

BREATHE: Flower/Candle Technique

Play pretend with your child! Hold up both hands as if you are holding a flower and candle. Using your imagination, “smell” the flower by breathing in through your nose and counting to 4, then blow out the candle with your mouth for a 6-count. Do this with your children 3-4 times, taking deep/slow breaths and counting each time.


Try using positive affirmations such as, “you are stronger than this emotion,” or "you can do hard things." Repeat the affirmations until the negative emotional responses fade out.


Usually our bodies tense when we are in a stressful situation. Give yourself a massage in the area(s) where the tension is the greatest. For example, if your head is throbbing you can try gently massaging your temples, scalp, ears, jaw, neck, and/or shoulders.


Possible Stressors & Suggested Solutions


Your child is moving slowly when completing a chore.


Find creative ways to motivate:

  • Make a game out of the moment; you can time them (age 3+) or pretend that you don't know how to clean up to invite them to include and correct you.
  • Be mindful of how many tasks you give them; one step at a time.
  • Engage in the chore with them; hold the toy container while they put their toys inside.


Your child is screaming / having a meltdown


Control your communication with them instead of trying to control their actions and the outcome:

  • In a lowered but firm tone, explain what you want them to do, don’t budge until it’s completed.
  • If your child continues to yell, explain, "you can sit here till you are done yelling, then tell me what’s wrong in your calm voice." If you sustain your calm tone, your child’s tone will eventually match yours when co-regulating in this way.
  • Bring in reinforcements! If you’re feeling overwhelmed, bring in another family member who your child trusts. Even bringing a family member into the situation via video chat can shift the dynamics.
  • If the situation stays escalated or worsens after a few minutes, consider moving away (even 5-10 feet) from where the incident started and try calm communication again.

Stress Prevention for the Whole Family

  • Take a walk around the block at a specific time each day.
  • Have two set times during the day where no one is engaging with a device; play a game together, cook a meal, or do chores.
  • Take a few minutes out of the day to focus on deep-breathing exercises.
  • Empathize with each other's stressful experiences and offer support.