Following my article on BonBon Break about giving my highly sensitive children a bucket to help them with their emotions I was asked about how to help them empty those buckets.
Helping a child to empty their bucket involves creating the calm and space to process their school day, or the big party they have just been to. (See here for a printable bucket activity.) It’s about giving them the time and quiet to empty their minds, as well as relax their bodies. Emptying their buckets is achieved by reducing sensory input – by making their environment calm, quiet and focussed.
What works for one child may not work for another. Some children find watching TV a great activity to switch off and relax but for other children any screen time at all is a bucket filler. Playing with sand or water is for some children a sensory overload but for others incredibly calming. You know your child best – learn what activities calm them, and which ones fill their buckets quickly.
Here are 50 ideas to help a child empty their buckets.
- Read a book: reading in a cosy corner or in the quiet of their own bedroom is a powerful way to calm a child and focus thoughts away from a busy day.
- Play calming music: playing a nursery rhyme, some classical music or a favourite pop artist can be relaxing for a child and allows them to focus on the music and switch off from everything else.
- Blow bubbles: throw open the back door and blow some bubbles, paying mind to slow, focused breathing as you blow the bubbles together.
- Meditate: taking even five minutes out to concentrate on breathing and how your body feels in that moment can be incredibly calming. There are great Smart Phone/IPad Aps (like Smiling Mind) and tools around like these books and CDs from Relax Kids.
- Story time: if you have more than one child who needs some quiet time then story time is a great way to help them all at the same time. Make a cosy space together and get everyone settled on cushions around you. Comfortable? Then let’s begin…once upon a time.
- Play with Lego: this has proved to be an amazing calming tool in our home. Building, creating and using fantasy and imagination clear out my children’s minds and consequently their buckets.
- Squeeze a stress ball: sometimes a full bucket turns into a physical fidget, an all encompassing restlessness, which squeezing a stress ball can help relieve. Being busy with a stress ball may also help your son talk to you about what is on his mind. (Dr Ted Zeff has indicated that keeping active whilst talking helps a boy carry out a conversation they are not completely comfortable with – it acts as a distraction from the intense focus.)
- Practice some yoga: practicing yoga with children has many benefits – emptying their bucket being just one of them. There are great yoga story books around to help.
- Paint: a paintbrush and all the colors of the rainbow at their disposal gives children a creative outlet for their emotions. For a younger child the act of swirling paint around can be enough to calm them physically and mentally. For an older child painting can be therapeutic to empty something that is bothering them onto a page, or something that has had a big impact on them.
- Squeeze playdough or silly putty: similar to a stress ball this gives children something to play with in their hands to ease restlessness or frustration.
- Do a ‘stamping feet’ dance: dancing around stamping their feet can be a great outlet for children as it earths them. Take off shoes and socks, put on some music with a prominent drum beat and rhythm and encourage your children to slowly stamp their way around the room in time to the beat.
- Draw a picture: asking your child to draw a picture that sums up their day is a great way of getting them to focus on the day’s main events, or things that are stuck in their mind. Drawing in itself helps get things out of their heads but also gives you a great starting point for talking about the day.
- Create with pavement chalk: similar to the benefits of drawing above, armed with pavement chalk a child can let their emotions and imagination go wild outside in the fresh air.
- A bucket of bubbles: a long straw (littles ones inside each other work too) and a bucket with water and washing up liquid goes a long way to calming a child.
- Go for a walk: just taking a different route home from school, or a walk around the neighbourhood can be enough to refocus a child’s mind. Taking a walk in the woods, on the beach or somewhere rural is even better.
- Play in a sand pit: the feel of sand running through their hands calms some children but a sand pit is also a great way to let imaginative play take hold.
- Water play: a water table or a bowl of water and a few plastic cups is a great way for some children to empty their buckets.
- Sensory boxes: use a box filled with (scented, coloured) rice, pasta or lentils and cups and funnels to calm a child.
- Cuddles: hugging my children and sitting with them on my lap is one of the most powerful calming tools we have at our disposal in my home.
- Puzzles: sitting and doing a jigsaw puzzle in a quiet space can focus a child as long as it’s not too difficult for them. Use a puzzle you know they can easily do, that they are familiar with, so they don’t become frustrated.
- Relax CDs: there are many CDs around that are purposefully created for calming a child, like this one Calm for Kids – Mini Meditations: Volume 2: For Ages 7 – 11 (Calm for Kids Relaxation Series) which we have found to be incredibly effective for my eldest son.
- Talking: sitting in a quiet place with your child and just talking can be a great way to get your child to open up and empty their day out of their mind. There may be things bothering them that they cannot directly put their finger on which come to light when you chat with them. They might not be able to immediately say why their bucket is full but talking can help them to identify why they have that niggling feeling.
- Take a bath: there are some days when nothing else seems to work in our house but a warm, quiet bubble bath is a surefire way to get my eldest son to switch off.
- Journaling: clear out a mind by putting it on to paper. There are some great journals around for children (like Time Capsule beautifully created by Gadanke).
- Time with a pet: sitting with the family cat or playing with the hamster can create quiet, focus and comfort.
- Colour or doodle: pens, paper and an imagination are sometimes all you need to get a HSC to sit and empty their bucket. A favourite colouring book or page can be calming.
- Sit in a tent or cosy corner: we put a tent in our front room to create a quiet space for our sons to go when they need it. They sit in there on a huge soft cushion wearing headphones and listen to calming music, or read a book or play with a quiet toy (like this Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Magnetic Pattern Blocks Set). We make it explicit that the tent is for quiet time, and one at a time.
- Write a story: if your child is old enough to write then taking some time to sit and write a story can be fun and calming at the same time. It doesn’t have to be a long tale!
- Craft something: a little time doing arts and crafts focusses a child’s mind. Our ‘knutseldoos‘ (craft box) is in almost constant use by one or more of my sons – just sitting cutting up paper calms my three year old and creating something spontaneously regularly helps my eldest two sons empty their buckets. It needs to stay simple so follow your child’s lead. If you need ideas have a look at my Pinterest board.
- Sit in the dark: sometimes pulling down the blinds, crawling under the duvet or hiding away in a closed off tent is what a child needs to get their bucket empty. The tent we have has fairy lights draped over the top but switched off with a blanket over the front of the tent it’s dark – which is sometimes just what one of my sons needs to switch his mind off.
- Silence: if your house is anything like mine then this is a tough one to achieve but sitting in silence can be a very powerful way of creating calm. Get your child to sit in a meditation pose and close their eyes. A couple of minutes is more than enough.
- A bedtime book: a book like Slaapklets (this is in Dutch) gets a child emptying their mind as they close down for the day. It’s a powerful tool that we have used with my eldest son. If anyone knows of anything like this in English please shout!
- Kinetic sand: even the adults in our house get a kick out of playing with Kinetic Sand. It’s soothing for big and small!
- Dancing: some children (and adults for that matter) benefit from a good boogie around the kitchen floor. It can be a great emotional and stress outlet to literally shake everything out.
- Snap circuits: building and creating something needs concentration and focus. My son can spend some serious quiet time with his Snap Circuits (US) set trying out different projects. (Click here for the UK link). It’s a bucket emptier for sure.
- Alone time: sometimes a child just needs to be alone. Grant the time as and when it helps but be sure to ask questions if a child is constantly locking themselves away in their room and wants little social contact.
- Story CD: who doesn’t like a good story? An audio story is always on hand when your child is in the mood to listen.
- Finger knitting / knitting: we have recently got in to knitting in our home and my eldest has taken to finger knitting like a duck to water. He says himself that he feels it emptying his bucket as he’s doing it. He’s also started knitting with needles and will sit and knit a few rows of a scarf he’s making for himself when he wants quiet time. It works for me too.
- Singing: when my sons’ buckets are full I often hear them belting out a tune at the top of their lungs. It’s an outlet which releases pent up emotion. You can also sing softer melodies with younger children to help them calm down – something that works well with my three year old who’s a bit of a singaholic.
- Massage: a shoulder rub or a neck massage is often well received and calms a child down relatively quickly. Touch is powerful.
- Take a nap: for some children a sleep works wonders, particularly when they are young. Even a little catnap can empty a bucket enough to get them through the rest of the day without spilling over.
- Ear defenders: drowning out noise works wonders for us, particularly when there is DIY, loud music or busy activities going on around my children. We have a pair in the car, one at school and one in the house so we have all bases covered.
- Weighted blankets: these are used to create calm and relaxation and are great for time out. Weighted blankets come in a whole range of different sizes and weights so you’ll need to find what works for your child. You can even make your own if you are handier with a sewing machine than I am….
- Fuse beads: my sons can spend hours creating with fuse beads (UK). They provide a creative outlet, but are also incredibly calming. This week alone we’ve seen Mario, Minions and Angry Bird creations. You can also buy bead sets (US) with pre-shaped peg boards as well as Maxi Beads for younger children.
- Cooking or baking: often when my children come home from school with a full bucket I ask them to help me with dinner, or we bake something together. The act of chopping, stirring or kneading tends to help them switch off and by the time we have food ready their buckets are much emptier than when they walked in the door.
- Body pods: I have seen lots of good things written about the calming effect of a body pod (US) (also known as a body sock (UK)) on a child who is suffering from a sensory overload.
- A snack and a drink: sitting down after school or a busy activity in a quiet place for a snack and a drink helps a child regroup and change their focus. Hungry, thirsty children can be cranky and uncooperative so a refueling pitstop will make them more open to activities that help empty that bucket.
- Kick around: kicking a ball around is calming. Make sure it’s not competitive and just for fun.
- Punch bag: sometimes the bucket is full of frustration and anger. Let your child know it’s okay to be angry, that it’s a natural reaction but it’s not okay to hurt others in your anger. Finding a safe outlet will help your child release their emotion in an acceptable manner: think about something like punching a cushion or pillow, or buying a small punch bag (UK). My eldest son has a pair of boxing gloves for just such an occasion. Punching his emotion out turns his anger to laughter every single time.
- Breathe: get your child to focus on each breath they take. With each breath out ask them to imagine themselves letting go of some element of their day, ask them to imagine their bucket emptying little by little with each breath. Or try a breathing exercise like this – “Breathe in deeply through your nose, then release your breath slowly- like a pressure cooker making a pssssss sound bringing the teeth together.” This is something you can practice yourself too – you know what they say about putting your own oxygen mask on first before you help your child? It applies to buckets too!
Tip: My post 5 ways to help a child get quiet time in school might be useful if your child is continually coming home from school with an overflowing bucket.
Over to you: what is missing from this list? What tips do you have to calm a child? What activities work well to empty your child’s bucket?
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