Self-soothing and self-regulation are among the most important skills a parent can teach. It begins in infancy, when newborns match their heartbeats with their caregivers. In the toddler years, lessons begin in earnest, when unpleasant emotions threaten to send kids, so very quickly, into a tantrum tailspin. "Take deep breaths," parents say. Or, "count to 10." Now the internet is loving a colorful and practical tool called a 'calm down jar.' But before you break out the glitter, you'll want to know: do calm down jars work?
In the world of sensory processing issues, tools like the calm down jar help both children and adults handle the stress of every day life. "Every person, whether they have a sensory processing disorder or not, has different coping mechanisms and strategies that work for them to calm down when they are overwhelmed," explains Keri Wilmot, an occupational therapist with Understood, in an email interview with Romper. Overwhelmed children — with or without sensory processing problems — can shake, squeeze, and batter the calm down jar, letting the sight of floating glitter soothe them. According to Wilmot, every child has unique needs. Nevertheless, the calm down jar (or "sensory bottle") is a powerful anxiety-management tool for many.
If it sounds too good to be true, consider this: reading for just six minutes also slows the heart, reported The Telegraph, and a single deep breath sets off a cascade of physiological changes throughout the body. "Many kids enjoy taking a few minutes to sit down and look at what’s inside the bottle when they feel overwhelmed as a way to calm down," Wilmot writes. The jars work because they appeal to the visual, tactile, and auditory senses all at once, making them particularly effective focal points for kids.
In addition, the colors in calm down jars themselves work a kind of magic on the body. "Children love colors, and colors can affect the brain and mood and emotion," explains Lori Lite, author of the parenting guide Stress Free Kids and the Angry Octopus Coloring Book, in an interview with Romper. Because children feel empowered when you give them a choice, Lite suggests keeping calm down jars in multiple colors.
"It would be fun for parents to observe how their child might be drawn to purple one day and red the next," she says. "At some point, you can foster emotional intelligence by asking children, 'How does that color help you feel?' or, 'Which color is a happy color?'"
Of course, the calm down jar may be especially effective for children with a sensory processing disorder, for whom the world is always a more intense place. "Kids with sensory processing disorders have difficulty with managing the sensory information from the world that comes into their muscles, joints and brain, from all of their senses, which include sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, body awareness, and movement," writes Wilmot.
Fortunately, occupational therapists offer many strategies — from homemade DIY slime to sensory friendly chairs — to help kids navigate an overwhelming world. And isn't that what childhood is all about?
To find out whether this tool will work for you child, you'll have to make a calm down jar of your own. "It's just one option, which may not work for everyone, but it’s certainly a strategy that many find helpful when they feel overwhelmed, whether they have a specific sensory processing disorder or not," writes Wilmot.
Why not give the jars a try? Worst case scenario, you'll have to replenish your craft supplies at Michael's. Best case, the falling glitter reminds your overwhelmed child that no feeling lasts forever, and that they have the power to lower their own stress levels. It's self-regulation, in a bottle.
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