Types of self control

Types of self control

Did you know there are several types of self-control that impact the way we act, behave, speak, and move? These types of control impact how we learn, communicate with others, and function in our daily tasks. There is more to self control than controlling impulses and self-regulation. Understanding these various differences can make a difference in learning how to gain self control.

In this article, we will break down what the components and types of self-control are, and provide you options on how to improve this important skill. 

Types of self control

WHAT IS SELF-CONTROL?

Before we can dive into each type of self-control, let’s define it at its basic level. 

The definition of self-control is a component of inhibitory control, and refers to the ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behavior based on and as a result of external and internal temptations and impulses. Self-control is an executive function and is a cognitive process that is necessary for regulating one’s behavior in order to achieve specific goals.

Break down of Self-control: 

An executive function that gives the…

Ability to regulate emotions, thoughts, and behaviors…

With consideration for temptations and impulses…

In order to achieve goals.

3 TYPES OF SELF CONTROL

Although different sources may describe self-control in different ways, most can agree on 3 types of self-control. 

Impulse control is one type of self-control

1. Impulse Control

Impulse control requires conscious thought, weighing the pros and cons of potential actions and their outcomes. For young children, this is nearly impossible. As we grow and the areas of the brain associated with executive function (the prefrontal cortex) develop, this ability becomes more accessible.  

It is believed that the prefrontal cortex does not develop until age 24-30. Now you understand why teenagers and college students are so impulsive!

Poor Impulse Control

Impulsivity, or acting before thinking, is caused by a lack of impulse control. In children, this may be seen as over-eating preferred foods, blurting out answers in class, interrupting others, or acting out in aggression.

More about what impulse control is here! Additionally, these impulse control strategies will get you started on addressing this area.

Emotional control is one type of self-control
  1. Emotional Control

Everyone feels varied emotions, regardless of age or status. Adults may want to scream and stomp their feet when something does not go their way, but they are able to stop themselves, as such actions would be inappropriate. In fact, they are most often able to stop inappropriate actions, and choose the appropriate emotional response. 

Emotional control is the result of a collaboration in the brain. Emotional intelligence and instincts are formed in the amygdala, then the prefrontal cortex controls what behaviors will exhibited. As with impulse control, young children will need time and education, in order to use their thinking brains to stop and control their emotional behaviors.  

Poor Emotional Control

Tantrums, sudden aggression, screaming, or crying uncontrollably, are all examples of  poor emotional control. Usually it is young people who struggle with poor emotional control. Some adults, particularly those with mental health conditions, may also have limited emotional control. 

When emotional control is limited, actions may be driven by emotions, not logic. Negative outcomes, that jeopardize health and safety, may ensue. 

Motor control is one type of self-control
  1. Movement Control 

Movement control, also known in the literature as physical control, is one of the lesser known aspects of self-control. This type of self control is exactly as the name implies; it is the way in which we control the movement of our bodies. 

The OT Toolbox covers the impact of poor self-control and resulting behavior, in this resource titled attention and behavior. The blog covers safety issues such as darting into a parking lot, touching a hot stove, and other movement related self-control situations.

Good movement control may be observed when a child sits upright at their desk, quietly, without extraneous movements, clearly ready to learn. Many people in organized sports also have good movement control, as they practice drills, and coordinate their bodies in order to meet a common goal. 

Poor Movement Control 

Uncontrolled movement, hyperactivity, accidentally crashing into objects or people, and poor handwriting, may be associated with a lack of movement control. Having some wiggles before recess, then being able to sit still afterwards, does not pose an issue for most. In fact, it is pretty typical to need movement breaks throughout the day. 

When a lack of movement control causes a child to be unable to complete schoolwork, be a part of a team in gym class, safety concerns, or safely move about the community or playground, intentionally crashing into others, hitting, biting, etc., it becomes more concerning. 

Resources TO IMPROVE SELF-CONTROL 

All children should be taught self-control. It is not something that they just inherently “know”. It is a complicated subject, that requires positive adult modeling, education, and of course, practice! 

The OT Toolbox has tons of great posts on the types of self control and its impact:

Do you think that self-control should be taught in schools? There is already so much on our educators’ to-do list, but this one may be worth integrating.

Here’s why: Self-control is integral to the ability to learn and apply knowledge, but it is also important to a healthy social life, too!

Types of self-control information handout

Free Handout: Types of Self-Control

Education supports advocacy! The information in this blog has been created into a handy handout, designed for advocacy and education on the types of self-control. These aspects of executive functioning are not always connected as an executive functioning skill, so that’s where this handout comes into the picture.

Want a copy to add to your therapy toolbox? Enter your email address below. You’ll receive a copy in your email inbox.

This resource is also available inside The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Members can easily access this printable as well as all of the other of free downloads on the site. No need to enter your email address for each one. Simply head to the dashboard page, go to the Educational Handouts toolbox, and print and go!

Free Handout: Types of Self-Control

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    Sydney Thorson, OTR/L, is a new occupational therapist working in school-based therapy. Her
    background is in Human Development and Family Studies, and she is passionate about
    providing individualized and meaningful treatment for each child and their family. Sydney is also
    a children’s author and illustrator and is always working on new and exciting projects.

    Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

    The Impulse Control Journal…a printable resource for helping kids strategize executive functioning skill development. When saying “calm down” just isn’t enough…

    When a child is easily “triggered” and seems to melt down at any sign of loud noises or excitement…

    When you need help or a starting point to teach kids self-regulation strategies…

    When you are struggling to motivate or redirect a child without causing a meltdown…

    When you’re struggling to help kids explore their emotions, develop self-regulation and coping skills, manage and reflect on their emotions, identify their emotions, and more as they grow…

    Grab the Impulse Control Journal to build organizational strategies, planning, prioritization, habits, and mindset in kids.

    Co-regulation

    In this blog, you will learn how the environment, and the feelings of those around us, directly affects behavior. You will learn simple ways to support children in calming down, while in our care, through co-regulation. This important skill is part of our emotional intelligence and one that takes fostering and nurturing. Let’s go over what coregulation means, how this skill develops, and how we can support co-regulation through practical strategies.

    Co-regulation information, facts, and references for developing this emotional intelligence skill in children and peers.

    CoRegulation

    The feelings and behavior of people in close proximity to us, directly impact how we feel, and respond to our own emotions. When children become upset, if those areound them stay calm, demonstrating how to calm down, the child can calm down quicker.

    How would you feel if your neighbor was yelling at the mailman for stepping on their freshly cut grass?  Do you feel annoyed? Can you feel the fear the mail man is feeling?

    How would you feel while walking past someone doing yoga in the park? Do you feel calm?

    In the same way adults are impacted by others actions, children pick up the moods of others around them. When people around us are behaving a certain way, we can be directly affected, responding both internally and externally. 

    When witnessing an uncomfortable event such as the confrontation at the mailbox, internally you might feel your heart start to pound, or clench your teeth as nervousness sets in. You might run and hide behind the window curtain to try and separate from yourself from what is making you feel uneasy (while still peeking in horror). 

    Once separated, you are often able to calm down using strategies to regulate your sensory system. I like to sip water and take breaths of lavender. My husband likes to go for a run and lift weights to decompress. As adults, we have learned how to adapt and overcome these intense feelings through different strategies. Children need support to separate themselves from stressful situations, and regulate their emotions.  They are not able to understand the triggers and determine an acceptable calming mechanism.

    Co-regulation definition and terms

    What is co-regulation?

    The definition of co-regulation is– the ability to regulate emotions and behaviors to soothe and manage stressing internal sensory input or external situations, with the support and direction of a connecting individual. Co-regulation is nurturing connection of another individual that supports regulation needs through the use of strategies, tools, and calming techniques in order to self-soothe or respond in times of stress.

    Co-regulation and self-regulation are part of the developmental process. In order to move from a co-existing place to a place of independence, the child needs to develop emotional intelligence and social emotional learning. All of this is part of typical development.

    Development of co-regulation

    Co-regulation is a part of development. Before one can self-regulate, they need to co-regulate.

    • Co-regulation begins in infancy. Before a young child can self-soothe, they need a parent to help them. When an infant is crying a parent picks them up, holds them close, rocks, and wraps them up in a tight swaddle, and offers a pacifier. All of these strategies are tools to provide correct sensory input that calms and regulates the baby’s system. This is co-regulation; the parent is offering tools and strategies to support the infant’s needs. 

    As caregivers we play a huge role in helping children calm down. When children are upset or overwhelmed, they look to us for help with regulating their emotions. This article explains how to support co regulation in infants through three year olds. A caregiver needs to project calmness in order to soothe their infant. This is very difficult for an anxious or upset parent.

    • Co-regulation in toddlers might look similar, but with more input from the child. The toddler prefers to be active and jump, run, roll, or move, rather than be held and cuddled all the time. The caregiver offers toys and activities to get the child moving in the way they enjoy. If the toddler only does these alerting activities, they might run themselves down, and move into a meltdown state. The parent then offers a calming tool such as a cool sip of water, a slow walk, singing a song, a break from the action, or a moment to stop and look at something interesting (also known as mindfulness). All of these are co-regulation strategies for toddlers. The parent offers strategies to the young child, and hopefully, the child accepts them. 

    As children grow into toddlers, the most successful way to support their feelings is to calmly use words and gestures to redirect them when they are upset. When adults are feeling anxious or upset when trying to redirect the child, children respond with increased adrenaline, becoming more upset and dysregulated.

    They match or mirror the energy of their caregivers. When adults stay calm, children can become calm. When children become or stay calm, they are able to listen and problem solve. 

    • Co-regulation in preschoolers can be similar to that of a toddler. As they develop, preschoolers are able to offer more input as to their preferences, interests, and dislikes. For example; the young child can request a certain sippy cup they like. They may not know why they like certain activities or items like the long straw on their favorite cup, or the weight of a plush toy, but they know that it feels good. Similarly, adults often do not understand why they choose to run or listen calming music, they just know it helps. Parents can help young children co-regulate sensory and emotional needs through providing ideas for strategies and activities. 
    • Co-regulation in older children– Preschoolers, kindergarteners, elementary aged children and teens are able to self-regulate using skills taught to them while being supported through co-regulation at a younger age. As children grow, they have more autonomy. They have more ability to move from co-regulation to self-regulation. 

    The ability to self-regulate occurs through co-regulation with parents, teachers, and older peers. Typically, it’s through the first 7 years of life that children need support to regulate emotions, sensory input, and external stressors.  Even after the age of 7, most kids need help! 

    Self-regulation development continues over time, but the ability to co-regulate begins to move from a supported mechanism, to an individual and independent ability.

    Co-regulation parenting tips and strategies to support emotional development.

    Co-regulation Parenting

    The above paragraph should help explain what coregulation means in young children, but how can we help support kids with co-regulation, so they can develop these self-soothing skills?

    We can focus on co-regulation parenting as a tool and a means to support our children.

    Many adults struggle with self-regulation. This is where we see additional problems. When young children need support to co-regulate, sometimes the adults in their lives are not offering the tools and strategies as a support person.

    If a parent responds to a young child’s meltdowns or behaviors with emotional outbursts, anger, stress, and anxiety, the young child cannot soothe themselves.

    It is important for adults to take a look at stressors, internal anxiety, and emotional state so they can support the young child. 

    • How many times have you witnessed frustrated teachers/parents/caregivers yelling at children?
    • Does it calm them, or make them afraid and shut down?

    This is why it is important for caregivers to step away from a situation where the toddler is “pushing their buttons”. Take a deep breath, get a date night out, go for a run, or some other mechanism of self-regulation.  I often said, “Mommy needs a time out.”

    self regulation

    You have probably heard the term “self-regulation” which refers to the ability to control oneself in any given situation by balancing and calming internal sensory systems within the world around us. 

    Before young children can self-regulate, they need the support of adults around them to teach and help them develop the abilities to regulate on their own. They need to co-regulate, or co-exist with parents, teachers, and others, who can “show them the ropes” and learn to balance and calm their internal and external systems. Co-regulation comes before self-regulation developmentally.

    Neuroscience of Co-regulation

    What does co-regulation look like in the brain?

    Brains are amazing machines, capable of processing the environment, including the feelings of others. Dr. Caroline Leaf, neuroscientist has stated “As you co-regulate with someone, the mirror neurons in their brain are activated, and this enables the person in the deregulated state to literally ‘mirror’ your calmness,” For long-term benefits and effective results, Johnson recommends practicing co-regulation often. “It will effectively rewire the brain so that over time, things that once were triggering or set off alarms no longer have the same effect and happen less often.” 

    Wow! The brain can process the feelings of others in milliseconds, directly affecting our our own moods and behaviors. No wonder all of the children in a preschool class feel overwhelmed, as soon as one child becomes dysregulated. 

    How do you prevent the whole room from becoming overwhelmed, when only one person is stressed? Co-regulation is the first step for a person to learn self-regulation. 

    According to this research article by Howard Beth, “Neuroscience shows that humans develop their abilities for emotional self-regulation through connections with reliable caregivers who soothe and model in a process called “co-regulation.” … In time, the child internalizes the expectation of a soothing response which provides a foundation for learning self-regulation. “

    It is the responsibility of caregivers to support co-regulation, which directly impacts a child’s ability to self soothe as they grow. When children are upset, the most important thing for caregivers to do, is remain calm.

    If caregivers become upset or overwhelmed in response to another person’s behaviors or actions, everyone will continue to feel stressed, and the situation will explode.

    Co-regulation activities and strategies to help kids with emotional development of cooregulation skills.

    How to help kids with co-regulation

    My own regulation techniques were put to the test once, when I was teaching at a preschool that backed up to a farm. The children (all 2-5 year olds) were inside eating lunch and I was setting up their nap mats. We had a futon in the classroom for children to relax and read books on.

    Out of nowhere, a humongous snake slithered out from under the futon! The initial shock wore off quickly, and my nerves set in. The snake was coming towards me, and I had 24 preschoolers eating lunch only ten feet away! I calmly helped the children walk out the door to the playground with the aide, breathing and saying “It will be okay. No need to worry.” 

    The kids walked out of the room curious, but not frightened. I raced to the phone and called for help (my voice was much more panicked as I talked to the janitor about the huge snake in the room)! I knew nothing about snakes, and I wasn’t about to get in its’ way. Luckily it ended up being a garter snake, removed quickly by a specialist and relocated, far away from my classroom!

    At that moment, I knew that I had to “keep my cool”, so the children wouldn’t become scared. They co-regulated off of my calmness, and were able to safely follow directions and watch the situation unfold from outside.

    Children learn new skills through hands-on activities. Regulation skills are learned the same way.

    Regulation Strategies:

    1. Deep Breathing- Deep breathing exercises for kids teaches young children how to calm down through pausing, and taking large breaths. Relaxation breathing is a great strategy for adults and kids to do together. The ones on this site use a fun and engaging strategy that introduces breathing techniques using visuals and imitation. The printables in this resource form the OT Toolbox teach kids all about breath control using fun pictures, arrows, and places to pause, and hold their breath. Print out the free PDFs, show the child the picture and the arrows, and practice deep breaths. When your child becomes upset, immediately start to “breathe like a polar bear”, or “do rainbow breaths” and watch as your preschooler starts to calm down too!

    Some of the most commonly used deep breathing tools include on the OT Toolbox include: 

    1. Toys and stuffed animals- Using a preferred toy or stuffed animal integrates strategies from DIR Floortime therapy strategies.  Kids gain the emotional vocabulary, and strategies to use in co-regulation, through play. I developed the Soothing Sammy (affiliate link) learning system. It is a great tool for co-regulation, because of the picture books and activities included with the emotional regulation toy. 

    In my book, Soothing Sammy, a golden retriever puppy, teaches children how to calm down using a variety of sensory strategies (such as jumping in place, blowing bubbles, sipping water, singing a song and squeezing a ball or play dough). First, read the Soothing Sammy story, where children visit Sammy in his dog house. He provides them with all of the tools needed to calm down. Once calm, the children are ready to play again. Use the stickers and shipping container to have your own preschoolers create a space for their own calm down items and place Sammy, the plush dog, inside! This is your child’s very own Sammy house to visit, just like the children did in the story.  When children are overwhelmed, experiencing big feelings, they are easily redirected to these activities by saying “Sammy Time.” Help children co-regulate by creating your own Sammy House and using items to calm down when they are upset, modeling calm and soothing behaviors.

    1. Go outdoors and co-regulate!

    Sometimes all we need is a little bit of fresh air to help feel better. Use these outdoor sensory diet cards to discover calm down strategies to use outside with children. These cards contain outdoor play challenges to get kids moving, experiencing various sensory systems, and receiving calming input from the great outdoors. Included, are over 180 ideas on how to calm the bod through movement. The outdoors is a great place for a sensory diet. In the backyard there is a variety of movement opportunities. A playground is another great space for calming and regulating play. Check out this blog post on sensory input at the playground

    Children, especially toddlers and preschoolers, depend on adults to show them how to calm down or self-regulate.

    tools for adults to learn self regulation

    Being that co-regulation requires the ability to support another individual with regulation needs, it’s important to address emotional and coping needs as the adult in a parent/child (or other adult/child, peer/peer relationship). As a support person, regulating ones’ own needs can go a long way in modeling appropriate reactions, coping strategies, and following through with regulation needs.

    Below are some great tools for adults to learn, or improve self-regulation so they can be models and important roles in the co-regulation relationship include:

    If you’ve ever flown on a plane, taken a cruise ship, you’ve heard the safety information: In the event of an emergency, adults should place the breathing mask over their faces before they attend to their child.

    Parents should put on their life jacket before they put the life jacket on their children. This seems backwards and selfish, however these life-saving mechanisms are of no use if the adult is struggling.

    If they don’t put on their own face mask or life preserver first, there is no chance to support and help the child. The same is true for regulation; parents must first self-regulate in order to help co-regulate their children’s internal and external needs.

    Empathy versus Empath

    Empathy is being able to understand a person’s feelings, or realize why someone might be angry or sad. It is an important social skill, especially if you are the one causing the upset. Young children do not have the capacity to understand the complexity of empathy.

    An empath is a person highly attuned to the feelings and emotions of those around them. Their ability to discern what others are feeling goes beyond empathy (defined simply as the ability to understand the feelings of others) and extends to actually taking those feelings on; feeling what another person is feeling at a deep emotional level.

    Try this empathy activity to teach these concepts to children.

    According to this article, What we do know is that researchers have discovered what they’ve dubbed “mirror neurons” in the brain which may help us to mirror the emotions of those we come in contact with.1 And it appears some people may have more mirror neurons than others; suggesting that empaths may exist.

    The positives of being an empath are being able to offer support to others, knowing when someone is in need of assistance, and reading a person’s energy to see if they are a good fit for you.

    The cons of this “ability” are that it is draining taking on the emotions of others around you, it feels like you are too sensitive, and you feel burdened taking on so much.

    Being an empath can be described as feeling like a vacuum cleaner, sucking up the emotions of those around you, often before they realize how upset they are.

    Empaths need to be experts at co-regulation because of the amount of sensory and emotional input they are “sucking in”.

    A final note on co-regulation

    Children aren’t born knowing how to manage their feelings in a positive way. As infants, they depend on their caregivers to soothe. As they grow into toddlers and preschoolers, children continue to depend on cargivers to teach them new strategies to calm down. When they sense how calm their caregiver is, they calm down also. The best way for caregivers to help children develop their self-regulation skills, is to support them in co-regulation, by showing them calming activities they can learn to use on their own.

    To learn more about sensory processing disorder and strategies, check out The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook and this resource on sensory processing disorder chart to understand all aspects of SPD.

    *Note: The term caregiver has often been used instead of parent. This is to be inclusive. Caregivers can be parents, older siblings, grandparents, teachers, daycare workers, bus drivers, coaches, and many more.

    Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

    Calm Down Corner

    calm down area in classroom

    For young (and old) children, a great calming classroom tool that supports learning, social participation, and school tasks is the calm down corner. A calming corner in the classroom can be a great sensory strategy to support emotional regulation needs in students. Let’s go over fun calm down corner ideas to support various regulation needs in the classroom.

    Calm down corner ideas and tips

    Calm Down Corner

    A classroom calming area can include a variety of movement and sensory based activities or tools. 

    • Flexible Seating tools – bean bag chair, movement seat, deflated beach ball seat, couch, soft chair, floor mats, large pillows
    • Soft surfaces – yoga mat, gymnastics mat, or soft rug
    • Headphones – with or without music, sound machine
    • Visual schedule of sensory strategies
    • Things to look at – books, magazines, pictures, lava lamp (refrain from electronics that have a screen, as they are alerting)
    • Calming corner printables and other visual calming strategies – Check out these calming sensory stations for Spring
    • Timer – visual timers with countdown options are great
    • Preferred sensory items such as tactile toys, chewing items, plushies, fidgets, etc.

    This list is just the beginning! A calm down corner can include any item from the list above or classroom sensory diet strategies, based on the needs of the individual student.

    This article on supporting self regulation in preschoolers offers valuable information on this topic.

    Calm down corners can be quiet soothing areas to decompress for certain learners, while others need a more active calm down area in classrooms.

    How to Add movement to a calm down corner

    There are many different ways that children can calm down. Movement is one of the most beneficial and complicated ways to manage feelings and emotions.

    There are two different types of movement patterns that support the sensory system.

    Both of these types of movement activities increase awareness of where a body is in space, calms the central nervous system and regulates emotions in an amazing way. Movement is complicated as it can be alerting and calming. Picking the right activity for the desired outcome is tricky, but effective.

    Help your learner understand what they need for self regulation, rather than bouncing all over the calm down corner.

    How is movement calming?

    Have you noticed that children seem to pay attention longer after moving around for a while? This isn’t just because they are tired after completing an active task. Children and adults are able to attend for longer periods of time when movement breaks are embedded into their daily schedules due to the sensory benefits it provides.

    For adults that have desk jobs, it is widely known that every 20 minutes, they should stand up. This not only helps blood flow, but also awakens the body. When children are engaged in circle time, implementing movement based activities within circle (like freeze dancing, jumping and marching) is beneficial to improving attention.

    Movement has many benefits, including helping calm down when feeling overwhelmed with emotions. 

    When the sensory system becomes overstimulated due to internal feelings and frustrations, some people are quick to seek out movement activities to calm down. Adults may go for a walk or run, chew gum, lift weights or kick a ball. This strategy directly affects proprioceptive input.

    There are many ways the body processes movement. This impacts the central nervous system in different ways.

    • Proprioceptive inputs is one of the ways the body processes movement. It tells the brain where the body is in space. Proprioception is guided by skin, muscle, and joint receptors in the body, to connect to the brain through the nervous system. In this way, a person knows where their body is in space, and what the body is doing, without needing to watch the body parts move. A great example of proprioception, is being able to walk down the stairs without looking at ones legs or feet
    • Heavy work, or tasks that involve heavy resistance, offers input to the muscles, joints, and connective tissue, and is essential to regulating the sensory system
    • In this article on neuroplasticity, evidence suggests the sensorimotor cortex that governs proprioception is not fixed, and can be changed through external manipulation.
    • Vestibular movement, like proprioception, also helps alert us where our body is in space. This system operates through the inner ear, passing information to the brainstem, affecting many areas of the body. If a person starts jumping, rocking to music, or dancing to calm the body, it activates the vestibular system. This article on vestibular activities does a great job explaining this system.

    more about the vestibular system

    Receptors in the inner ear, found in two structures (the otolith organs and the semicircular canals), respond to linear/angular/rotational movement, gravity, head tilt, and quick movement changes. 

    The receptors in the ear, provide information to the central nervous system about the body’s position in space. Information is used to:

    • control posture, eye, and head movements
    • correct the eyes with head and body movements
    • muscle tone and postural adjustments
    • perceive motion and spatial orientation, and integrates somatosensory information

    Through the vestibular and proprioceptive systems, the body processes information about where it is space, interprets movement patterns, and recognizes touch and joint pressure. These senses greatly impact the ability to calm down by triggering pressure points through movement (such as rocking or swinging). 

    When a child (or adult) becomes upset or overwhelmed, it is helpful to utilize the vestibular and proprioceptive systems as intervention tools. This helps a person calm and self regulate, in order to process their feelings and problem solve. 

    Because children often need sensory strategies to self regulate, having a designated calm down area set up in the home/classroom makes redirecting children to the appropriate calming activities much easier.

    The Soothing Sammy program is a great way to encourage children to take part in creating their own calm down corner through a story about a dog, Sammy, a golden retriever. As children help build Sammy’s calm down area to use when overwhelmed, they are gently taught that it is okay to have a variety of feelings. As children look through the book, they learn how to use objects in their calm down corner when needed, including drinking water, wiping their face with a cloth, jumping on a small mat (proprioceptive and vestibular input) and much more. 

    There are so many items that we can add to a calm down corner and every calm down corner will be different based on individual children’s needs. In the Soothing Sammy curriculum, there are recipes for lavender bubbles, slime, tactile fidgets, paint, and others.

    Proprioception Calm Down Corner Ideas

    Here are some great proprioceptive strategies to include in a calm down corner:

    • Calming Corner Printables- Print off the sensory stations listed below. These support heavy work needs (and vestibular input)
    • Jumping mat or small trampoline. When children jump, they put pressure on their joints 
    • Weighted blanket. Weighted blankets provide deep pressure over the entire body, making this activity one of the an effective whole-body proprioceptive strategies to help children calm down
    • Watering plants. Lifting a watering can, can impact joints all over the body. As children stoop down to pick up the watering can, moving it over plants of different heights, they are getting great input
    • Weighted ball. Lifting and rolling over a weighted ball increases proprioceptive input in the hands, arms, shoulders, and core. 
    • Play Dough. Squishing, squeezing and pulling apart playdough or clay, increases proprioceptive input in hands and small joints. 

    Some of these activities can be alerting or calming, therefore some trial and error may be needed.

    Vestibular Calm Down Corner Ideas

    Movement with changes in positioning can be calming as well. Think slow, rocking movements. Here are some Vestibular strategies to include in a calm down area:

    • Farm Brain Breaks These simple, yet fun activities, provide visual ways to complete vestibular activities
    • Calming Corner Printables- Movement like yoga poses or those offering brain breaks can be just the calming input needed.
    • Swinging – Help your child move and sway in different directions with an indoor or outdoor swing. A Sensory Swing for modulation is an amazing way to provide an option to swing in a home or preschool setting
    • Trampoline – Provide a small trampoline for your child to jump on. (Amazon affiliate link:) This toddler trampoline with handle is perfect for indoors spaces
    • Dancing – Any type of movement to music, including freeze dancing or shaking instruments (such as a tambourine, bells, maracas) or using scarves, are wonderful additions to a calm down corner
    • Yoga Poses – There are several themed yoga poses perfect for children. Add a yoga book or cards like these Unicorn Yoga Poses to any calm down area

    Calming Corner Printables

    Over the years, we’ve created seasonal sensory stations that support regulation needs. We’ve received wonderful words of thanks and feedback letting us know how loved these sensory stations have been.

    Check out each of these seasonal calming corner printable packets. Pick and choose the ones that support your needs in the classroom, therapy clinic, or home:

    1. Summer Sensory Stations
    2. Fall Sensory Stations
    3. Winter Sensory Stations
    4. Christmas Sensory Stations
    5. Spring Sensory Stations

    Additionally, other calming corner printables might include deep breathing posters. We have many free deep breathing exercises on the website, including:

    Finally, a brain beak printable like our popular alphabet exercises makes a great wall poster for a calming corner of the classroom.

    A final note on setting up a calming corner in classroom

    Calm down areas should incorporate all the senses, as every mood, trigger, situation and response is different. Equally important is the co-regulation aspect, which relates to responding to the mood and behavior of those around us, or the peers that may be present in a classroom or home setting.

    By utilizing a variety of calming tools in a calming corner, or calm down space within the classroom, children will be able to identify what they need, the moment they need it, while still engaging in active learning.

    It can be daunting and complicated providing for the needs of all of your different learners, however, by incorporating vestibular and proprioceptive materials in a calm down corner, children are able to use these powerful movement strategies when they need them the most, all while taking a multisensory approach to academics.

    Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

    ADHD Tools for Parents of Children with Attention Difficulties

    ADHD tools

    Here you will find a number of ADHD tools and supports for individuals with ADHD, including ADHD resources for parents. The statistics of the number of people with Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD) is staggering.  These numbers are compounded by the fact that attention deficit is difficult to diagnose.  The market is flooded with ADHD resources, and strategies to support attention needs, but what are the right ones? Doctors and other professionals could be over or under diagnosing due to this difficulty in gathering accurate data.

    ADHD tools for kids and parents of children with ADHD

    Yes there are ADHD checklists, surveys, and questionnaires, but they are not scientific or 100% accurate.  They are often based on opinion and observation versus data.  This is a stark contrast to diagnosing down syndrome or hearing loss, that is tracked by concrete data or genetic testing. 

    ADHD TOOLS

    When it comes to specifically ADHD tools, my advice is to take these diagnoses with a grain of salt.  Look more for symptoms, behaviors, skills, and difficulties rather than relying on a label.  It does not matter as much that this is called ADD, ADHD, or ABCD, but what are the struggles the learner is having? 

    To best support any diagnosis (attention diagnoses being one), focus on the struggles, creating measurable and relevant goals, instead of focusing on the label.

    To best support a child with attention challenges, find ADHD resources you can trust to provide useful information and strategies.

    Having any label, diagnosis, or list of symptoms can feel overwhelming. The number of attention related resources available on the internet are astounding.  But which are accurate?  Who can you believe?  There are no easy answers unfortunately.  

    Which way to turn for ADHD TOOLS?

    When there is an overwhelming amount of data presented at one time, the best jumping off point is to rely on the feedback of others.  Sometimes it is a trusted doctor or friend, but more often than not, it can be a large crowd of strangers. 

    When looking for the perfect resource to share with parents, I usually turn to Amazon and start reading the reviews.  I read a ton of reviews before making my selections.  This is time consuming, however I do not have time to read something that is not a good resource, has incorrect information, or written in a terrible format.

    Attention Resources from Amazon

    There are some solid attention resources from Amazon available, including ADHD audiobooks, and other formats that have good reviews. I have not personally read them, but have taken the time to research them and read the long reviews.

    Amazon affiliate links are included below.

    Amazon has some great ADHD audiobook resources for parents and professionals available on Audible and other formats. Audiobooks are a great alternative to paper books, as they can be listened to almost anywhere.

    There are tons of resources on attention and ADHD in audiobooks. I tried to find ones that had good reviews, were accurate and easy to read/listen to, and provided useful strategies.

    If you are an Amazon Prime member, You’re eligible to claim 2 free titles from our entire selection (one title per month thereafter) with a free Audible 30 day trial. A standard trial includes 1 credit for an audiobook download. After the Audible trial period, all members receive 1 credit per month.

    Click here start your free Audible Trial Period.

    Delivered From Distraction: Getting the most of out Life with Attention Deficit Disorder.  This book is written for teens or adults with ADD.  This may be helpful for parents as well, as attention deficits tend to run in families.  It can be read cover to cover or in sections.  The author says, feel free to skip around.

    You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?: A Self-help Audio Program for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder  As with most books I have found, there are going to be people who do not like the book.  This is to be expected.  However, more people say they liked it than the few who did not. I like that this is available in audio, as some people are more auditory learners than visual. Finding an hour in the car to listen seems much easier than trying to carve out that same hour reading on the couch.

    Taking Charge of ADHD, Third Edition: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents This book is available in several formats. Audible is one that may be easier for parents to listen to, as their couch time is limited. This book takes a real look at ADHD.  Most people found this book helpful. The few that did not, found this book too straight forward or maybe “depressing.”

    The ADHD Advantage: What You Thought Was a Diagnosis May Be Your Greatest Strength. This book came as a recommendation from a reviewer who needed a positive spin on ADHD after reading all of the devastating facts and figures about ADHD. 

    Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD, 2nd Edition – Revised and Updated: Tips and Tools to Help You Take Charge of Your Life and Get Organized  This book points people in the direction of real life solutions. It is fine to spend time researching the “what” and “why” of a diagnosis, but without real solutions, the research just leaves people frustrated. It can be used for adults and adapted for children. 

    The OT Toolbox has a great post on Organization and Attention Challenges.

    Smart but Scattered Teens: The “Executive Skills” Program for Helping Teens Reach Their Potential Positive reviews praise this book for its information about working with teens with attention issues or decreased executive function.  It gives doable strategies that work for teens.  The strategies are motivating for modern teens. Critical reviews cite that this book is more about the “what and why” rather than the “what to do about it” side of this diagnosis. Much of the advice centers around driving, and using technology to help teens.  On a positive note, this is what motivates teens to perform.  On the flip side, not everyone has a driving teen or wants to encourage use of electronics.

    Books for younger learners:

    Marvin’s Monster Diary: ADHD Attacks! (And I Rock, Big Time): St4 Mindfulness Book for Kids Written in the Wimpy Kid book series, this is a cute motivating book series for children who struggle with attention issues to relate to.  It is available in several formats including Audible.  This might be a good book to buy in print and listen to Audible at the same time.

    Marvin’s Monster Diary 2 + Lyssa!: ADHD Emotion Explosion (But I Triumph, Big Time!)  This second book in the Monster Diary series proves to be a winner as well.  It has several positive reviews about it’s entertainment value, readability, and writing style. Again because it is a graphic novel type of read, it would be excellent paired with the written version as well as Audible.

    A Dragon With ADHD: A Children’s Story About ADHD. A Cute Book to Help Kids Get Organized, Focus, and Succeed. (My Dragon Books 41) This is another great series to keep children interested while learning about ADHD.  This series covers a multitude of topics.  The nice thing about series is if you buy into one, it sets the reader on a whole journey of discovery. This is written for children, however reviewers say that adults, therapists, and parents will enjoy this book as well.

    Focused Ninja: A Children’s Book About Increasing Focus and Concentration at Home and School (Ninja Life Hacks)   This book is part of a Ninja series teaching children valuable lessons in an entertaining method. If you were a fan of the Mr. Men book series, you will like this one.  Each ninja is named after the skill he lacks or is trying to gain.

    The OT Toolbox ADHD and attention resources

    The OT Toolbox has become a trusted resource for many of you reading these posts and subscribing to the website. The OT Toolbox does not disappoint and has wonderful articles, activities, and resources to fill your “toolbox”, not only on topics such as ADHD and attention, but fine motor, sensory, gross motor, executive function and so much more.

    Type ADD, Attention resources for parents, or ADHD activities into the search bar for a great list of archived posts. Just when you are overwhelmed with information and resources, try wrapping your head around the sensory connection between attention and organization challenges.

    It is no wonder there is such misdiagnosis, confusion, and misinformation out there. Autism, ADD, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Anxiety, and about a dozen other diagnoses have overlapping and similar symptoms. Keep your focus on how to help and move forward rather than where did this come from, or what is this called?

    Happy reading, take a deep breath, one moment at a time!

    Victoria Wood

    Victoria Wood, OTR/L has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

    How to Use a Sports Water Bottle as a self regulation tool

    Sports water bottle self regulation tool

    Sipping on a hot cup of tea, chewing gum, or sucking on a hard candy are self regulation strategies for oral sensory processing you probably use in your daily life, without even thinking twice.  But did you know that you can use a sports water bottle as a self regulation tool, too? Oral sensory processing tools, or coping strategies, can be an important part of anyone’s life, for self regulation and promoting attention across settings like home, school, and the community.  

    You can use a sports water bottle as a self-regulation tool! This sensory coping trick is great for kids, in the classroom, or while on the go!

    Using a Sports Top Water Bottle for Self Regulation

    While sitting in a waiting room, waiting for your table at a restaurant, or sitting down to pay your bills, how often do you bring along a drink or snack to help maintain your regulation? 

    You probably don’t realize these are great sensory regulation tools, it just seems like a good idea, and has become a habit. As adults, we naturally have strategies we incorporate into our daily lives to help us regulate. 

    For children, these strategies may not be as obvious or innate.  Here’s where using self regulation strategies including those for oral sensory processing, from an occupational therapist may help.

    Related, this Impulse Control Journal from the OT Toolbox is a great resources for writing down triggers, develop strategies, and use self regulation tools to feel more organized.

    What is self regulation?

    Self regulation is a complex process we all use on a moment to moment basis.  It involves registering and responding to your own thinking, emotions, and attention.  Self regulation impacts your focus and your behavior, which in turn impacts how you receive and respond to information in your environment.  

    Self regulation involves the coordinated effort of your sensory processing systems, emotional regulation, and executive functioning.  If this sounds complicated, it’s because it is! 

    Occupational therapists can help children and families, by evaluating their needs across the environments where they live, play, and learn.  One of the areas an occupational therapist will assess, is your child’s sensory processing patterns to determine what, if any sensory strategies and self regulation tools may support their participation and performance at home, in school, or when out in the community.

    Self regulation is a necessary tool for developing impulse control in order to make good choices.

    What is sensory processing?

    Amazon affiliate links are included below.

    In the book Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder, Lucy Jane Miller defines sensory processing as “a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives sensory messages and turns them into responses” (Miller, 6).  The sensory systems involved in sensory processing are:

    • Visual (sight)
    • Auditory (hearing)
    • Tactile (touch)
    • Olfactory (smell)
    • Gustatory (taste)
    • Vestibular (movement)
    • Proprioception (body position/awareness)

    If you think your child is having difficulty with sensory processing, you may find this Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist a helpful place to start. This is just the tip of the iceberg in understanding sensory processing and getting help.

    Here are a couple of other popular resources to learn about sensory processing disorder.

    Oral Sensory Processing and Sensory Strategies

    There are hundreds of different ways to support sensory processing when addressing all of the senses mentioned above.  Let’s take a closer look at oral sensory processing and the sensory strategies associated with it.

    Using oral sensory input for self regulation starts at birth.  Infants and babies use their oral sensory receptors as both a source of comfort and for sensory stimulation. 

    Parents use pacifiers, and feeding by bottle or breast to calm and soothe infants.  Babies constantly bring hands, feet, and toys to their mouth to explore.  Because oral input is comforting and soothing, pacifiers and thumb sucking are hard habits to break.

    As babies grow into toddlers and beyond, we see these oral sensory experiences continue to change and adapt into functional strategies that fit into everyday life in the form of chewing gum, sipping a warm drink, or snacking on a favorite crunchy snack.

    These are natural examples of sensory regulation tools.

    For some people, the need for oral sensory input is strong, and they may seek out this type of input in many ways. This may be the child who continues to mouth toys beyond toddlerhood, chew on clothing. 

    While this does provide oral sensory input for kids who need to chew, it is not functional for a child to be chewing on their shirt at school.  School-based occupational therapists may be able to help make suggestions for sensory strategies that can be easily incorporated into the school day to help support student’s oral sensory processing needs.

    Why Using a Sports Water Bottle Helps with Self Regulation

    Using a sports top water bottle for self regulation is a common suggestion by occupational therapists.  Why?

    When using a sports bottle, sensory input is added through the face; The mouth, including the jaw, lips, and cheeks are powerful sensory areas.

    The mouth, face, and jaw are full of sensory receptors.  Using oral sensory processing tools and strategies are often a great way to provide intense or calming sensory input with a fast impact.

    Oral receptors send information to the brain about taste, touch, and they also provide proprioceptive inputs through sucking. 

    Activating the oral sensory receptors through sucking provides intense, calming sensory input.

    Sports Water Bottles for Sensory Input

    Using a sports bottle during the day is a meaningful task for most of us. Kids see their peers using a sports bottle or a water bottle of some type during the school day, during after school transitions on the school bus, in the community, and in many settings. This means that the high-impact sensory strategy they are using doesn’t look out of place to their peers. (While acceptance of differences is widely accepted, it can be helpful for kids and teens to appear to be using the same items as their peers. This is true for all of us, and not just because there may or may not be a sensory need at play!)

    So, what are some OT-recommended sports bottles for use as a sensory tool that have high-impact when it comes to calming supports? Try these sports bottles:

    1. Kids Hydro Flask with Straw
    2. 32 Ounce Hydro Flask With Straw
    3. ADIDAS Sports Bottle
    4. Water Bottle with Straw and Flip Top Lid

    Here are some ways to provide oral sensory input:

    • Use a sports top water bottle such as this one, with resisted sucking throughout the day
    • Try drinking a thick smoothie through a straw
    • Provide chewing gum (usually sugarless in small pieces)
    • Use a battery powered toothbrush – vibration provides proprioceptive input to the oral sensory receptors
    • Encourage crunchy or chewy snacks such as pretzels, bagels, carrot sticks, or stale Twizzlers
    • Sucking on a popsicle or other frozen treat (These homemade lemon lime popsicles are a great way to support this need. Plus kids can help make them!)
    • Blowing bubbles

    A final note on using a sports water bottle as a self Regulation tool

    The most important thing to think about when choosing sensory strategies for anyone, is to think about how it will fit into their daily routines.  A water bottle is a great tool for anyone who needs access to oral sensory strategies, because they will be able to keep it at their desk, in their backpack, or carry it around with them.

    Sensory “tricks” like this; Ones that are specifically integrated into one’s day are the most effective. Similarly, using a battery powered toothbrush on the way out the door in the morning, providing a crunchy morning snack, using a water bottle throughout the day, and offering a thick smoothie with a straw after school would provide your child many oral sensory experiences throughout the day to help meet their sensory processing needs.

    This is a great example of a sensory diet, proven to be beneficial for self regulation in many people.

    Katherine Cook is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience primarily working in schools with students from preschool through Grade 12.  Katherine graduated from Boston University in 2001 and completed her Master’s degree and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study at Tufts University in 2010.  Katherine’s school based experience includes working in integrated preschool programs, supporting students in the inclusion setting, as well as program development and providing consultation to students in substantially separate programs.  Katherine has a passion for fostering the play skills of children and supporting their occupations in school. 

    References: Miller, L. J., & Fuller, D. A. (2007). Sensational kids: Hope and help for children with sensory processing disorder (SPD). New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.