My kids like to jump on the couch. When I tell them not to jump on the couch, they respond by barrel-rolling onto the cushions, then wrestling each other while shrieking. This inevitably leads to tears and recriminations and woe. When this happens, I'm willing to try anything to calm them down. So when I heard that Gwyneth Paltrow was selling a child-calming spray on her website, I was willing to try it out.
Paltrow’s controversial website Goop is known for its super-expensive, oddball products. One of its less costly offerings is Chill Child ($30), a gem elixir, or a water that is "charged" with crystals and preserved in vodka. Chill Child is made by the spiritual healing store Paper Crane Apothecary, which is owned by certified crystal healer Zoe Taylor-Crane.
Chill Child contains jasmine, lavender, chamomile, and germanium, and according to Taylor-Crane, the spray “work[s] on a vibrational level to gently heal the mind, body, and spirit … [by utilizing] the powerful energies of the Sun, Full Moon, Reiki, Sound Waves, Color, Sacred Geometry, Positive Intention and Love.” You're supposed to “spray in an arc above your head to ensure the mist covers your entire aura.” Taylor-Crane also told me the spray was "formulated... with ADHD and autism in mind," so as the mother of two sons with ADHD, I was curious about trying it.
To be perfectly honest, I went into this experiment highly skeptical. Sure, I did the earth-hippie stuff in college: I left milk out for the elves, and (sort of, maybe) saw auras). But that phase of my life was long over. Still, Taylor-Crane was kind enough to send me some Chill Child to try out on my band of three rambunctious boys, who are 7, 5, and 3, so I decided to give it a shot for a full week.
Day 1: Sunday
The first time I used Chill Child, the boys were wrestling and jumping on the couch. I brought Chill Child in and sprayed down their auras like they were misbehaving cats. “What’s this?” my oldest asked.
“It’s supposed to make you calm down,” I said. (I must admit that this wasn't the most scientific experiment, especially since the subjects were aware of the hypothesis and there was no real control, but whatever.)
“It’s not making me calm down!” he squealed. He leapt on his brother. “Well, maybe the smell is making me calm down," he said.
After a brief interlude of bafflement, during which they sniffed each other, they continued jumping on the couch, calming down only when my husband barreled out of the back room and told them they’d have bread for dinner if they kept it up.
Day 2: Monday
The second time I used Chill Child was preemptive. Before the boys misbehaved, I fixed the bottle (the sprayer had broken), and misted it in two or three arcs over their heads. It was the Fourth of July, and they were excited to decorate their bikes for the holiday parade. But they didn’t fight, annoy each other, or pester each other — they were just excited.
“What’s this?” my oldest asked.
“It’s supposed to make you calm down,” I said.
“It’s not making me calm down!” he squealed.
Later, their behavior went totally to hell. They punched and clawed at each other, so maybe Chill Child has a hell of a come-down. My oldest told me to spray the little ones again. “Maybe that will make them shut up,” he said. But then he degenerated into backtalk and misery. Luckily, organic gummy bears and granola bars restored some equanimity. Basically, they’d just been hangry all along.
“Can I be honest with you?” my oldest said after I sprayed them a second time later that night. “It doesn’t actually calm you down. It only works the second you spray it.”
“Yeah the only thing that calms us down is the smell, and then when you’re done spraying it, it doesn’t work,” my middle son agreed.
Day 3: Tuesday, Fourth of July
I sprayed the kids down (or, rather, their auras) early in the morning before the parade. We’d spent two hours the day before decorating their bikes with streamers, garlands, stars, and flags. They were going to peddle through downtown in a real-life parade, waving to spectators and everything. This was very, very, very exciting. They squealed when I sprayed them.
“What’s that terrible smell?” Hubs demanded as he entered the living room. “Oh. You sprayed them down with lies again.”
I couldn't believe how well-behaved they were.
“Hey, now,” I said. “We’re testing to see if it works. You’re messing with the results.”
And it worked, because my three children, two of whom have ADHD, waited with decorated bikes in a parking lot for 30 minutes, then in a parade line for 15, then rode in the parade without speeding, crashing, dueling other children, hitting a golf cart, or running down the elderly. To parents with neurotypical kids, this might seem ho-hum. To us, this was a remarkable victory. I couldn't believe how well-behaved they were.
Day 4: Wednesday
I sprayed them later in the day, because I wanted it to have maximum effect: we were interviewing a babysitter at the park, and I knew they'd be distracted by the giant sand pit and splash pad. The boys giggled when I gave them three spritzes each. Maybe it was the Chill Child spray, or maybe they were just happy to be playing outside with a bunch of sand toys. But they acted like perfect angels, until we got home and the 3-year-old screamed for a bath and no one had energy for anything other than watching reruns of Samurai Jack.
Maybe it was the Chill Child spray, or maybe they were just happy to be playing outside with a bunch of sand toys. But they acted like perfect angels.
Later, my 3-year-old threw a three-year-old tantrum, and my 5-year-old insisted that I needed to “spray him!” I sprayed all of them for good measure. The tantrum wound down in normal fashion, and everything continued as normal. It struck me that even if this spray is total crap, the magical thinking behind it is perfect for a 5-year-old, so it might have a strong placebo effect on smallish children.
Day 5: Thursday
Everyone accepted their morning spray-down with equanimity, and everyone was placid while going about their normal morning tasks. My 3-year-old had a complete meltdown at Target, but he hadn’t eaten more than two bites of yogurt, and he passed out cold for two hours afterwards at 11:00 a.m. Everyone else spent the morning picking up their things and playing together fairly well.
I marched over with the spray bottle and yelled, “LINE UP!” I was met with a chorus of cheers, and my kids lined up cheerfully for me.
Does it work? The kids think it does. My husband thinks it’s “made of lies.” I’m torn. At least it smells good.
Day 6: Friday
I didn’t spray the kids until the early evening, when they were fighting, tussling, and wrangling about cleaning their room. I marched over with the spray bottle and yelled, “LINE UP!” I was met with a chorus of cheers, and my kids lined up cheerfully for me. I sprayed my oldest’s aura. My middle son enthused, “I can smell it already!” before I got him over the head. The youngest refused to emerge from the bunk bed, so I sprayed in the general direction of his head, but I totally got his aura. They were much quieter in the few minutes after their spritzing, which was enough time for me to get some work done.
Day 7: Saturday
I sprayed the boys down before the babysitter came over. Upon our return, I asked our sitter how they behaved. “Like normal boys,” she said. I asked what she meant. “Well, they chased each other around for an hour and a half with a rubber band gun,” she said. No one was unhappy. No one was crabby or cranky. They were just … awake. And energetic.
My kids loved using Chill Child spray. They absolutely adored the smell, and would happily line up to get sprayed. While writing this piece, I caught my seven-year-old spraying half a snifter full into his hair because, as he said, "I want to calm down and it smells good."
Maybe it’s a placebo effect: i.e., I’m thinking their behavior is better than it actually is. But that keeps me calmed down, and even if that's all Chill Child does, it's still totally worth it.
After a week of spraying my kids with Chill Child spray, however, this skeptic is still a skeptic. I don’t believe in auras, much less Reiki and moon energy, sacred geometry, and positive intention. Some days, Chill Child seemed to work. But most days, it seemed that in order to have any effect, it was necessary for my kids to be well-rested and fed.
The real test, though: I’m going to keep using it. I don’t know if the spray would pass scientific muster. But after using it, I saw at least a small difference in the way my kids behave, especially when they knew they were using it. I told them I was spraying them with something to calm them down, so they believed they would calm down. Maybe it’s a placebo effect: i.e., I’m thinking their behavior is better than it actually is. But that keeps me calmed down, and even if that's all Chill Child does, it's still totally worth it.