Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that interfere with functioning and development. Children with ADHD often feel restless, have trouble focusing, and can be more impulsive than other kids their age. They also tend to have more extreme emotions that they may struggle to regulate properly.
When children with ADHD feel overwhelmed, irritated, angry, sad, or any difficult emotion, it can exacerbate their symptoms and make it even harder for them to focus, control their behaviors, and calm themselves down. Having go-to calming strategies is essential for helping children with ADHD self-regulate. The following methods may help soothe your child when they are feeling out of control or overstimulated.
Schedule Relaxation Breaks
Children with ADHD often have shorter attention spans, so forcing them to sit still for long periods can heighten their restlessness. Build relaxing breaks into your child’s schedule where they can reset their mind and body. Even 5-10 minutes of relaxation a few times a day can help your child feel more regulated. This can include listening to soothing music, going outdoors, engaging in sensory play (e.g. playdough, slime), coloring, or deep breathing exercises. Having scheduled downtime prevents buildup of restlessness.
Provide Fidget Toys
Let your child keep special toys or objects designed for fidgeting handy so they can channel restless energy into these calming outlets. Fidget toys allow the child to focus their urge to move. Great options include fidget spinners and cubes, clay, squeeze balls, sticky tack, or anything with interesting textures. Having toys that occupy their senses and hands helps prevent impulsive and hyperactive behavior. Encourage fidgeting rather than scolding.
Spending time in nature is intrinsically calming and regulating for the nervous system. Outdoor activities and fresh air tire children out in a healthy way. Taking your child to the park, hiking, playing sports outside, camping, and enjoying outdoor recreation are great for providing sensory input and easing pent up energy levels. Just avoid overly stimulating activities before bedtime. Also build in opportunities for quiet contemplation with nature, like listening to birds or observing insects to encourage reflection and mindfulness.
Timers, alarms, and count-down warnings can be useful for helping children with ADHD wrap up activities or transition from a preferred task to a less desirable one. Warning your child they have 5 more minutes to play before clean-up prevents abrupt or shocking transitions. Timers also teach time management skills. Your child can monitor their progress on unpleasant activities like homework, knowing a timer will alert them for a break. Apps also provide visual timers your child can monitor. Give choice over timer duration to empower your child too.
Offer Sensory Input
Children with ADHD often have sensory issues, meaning their thresholds for stimulation may be too high or low. Providing ongoing sensory input tailored to your child’s preferences may have an organizing and calming effect on the nervous system, preventing overstimulation before it happens. Activities may include brushing skin with soft brushes, wrapping in a weighted blanket, giving shoulder or hand massages with a squishy ball, using a compression sleeve, or providing a vibrating seat cushion. Oral inputs like chewy tubes or hard candies can also calm children.
Encourage Mindfulness & Meditation
Mindfulness helps children recognize and regulate emotions by bringing attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way. Guided meditations teach kids techniques for self-calming, including focused breathing, mental imagery of a peaceful place, quiet contemplation of a physical object, body scans, and muscle relaxation. Considerations should be made for your child’s developmental level starting around age 5. Sessions can be brief but should be consistent – try 5-minute daily practices focusing on sensations, actions, or perceptions. Yoga, prayer, or creative visualization may resonate with some children too. Apps like Headspace or Calm provide kid-focused content.
Your unconditional support, encouragement, and belief in your child goes a long way toward strengthening their self-esteem and self-regulatory abilities. Children with ADHD often feel frustrated, anxious, sad, angry, and may be self-critical due to academic and social challenges. Provide frequent warmth and affection and praise any positive behaviors, like asking for a break, using a fidget toy appropriately, or expressing their emotions in your preferred manner verbally rather than physically. Convey confidence in their ability to self-regulate with practice – your reassurance is calming.
Use Color & Light Therapies
Evidence shows that certain colors like blue, violet and green have physiologically calming properties by lowering heart rate and reducing anxiety. Try painting your child’s room in a tranquil hue, using color changing LED lights to create a soothing ambience before bedtime, or having your child stare at calming mobile apps that utilize these cool tones to relax the eyes and mind. Essential oil diffusers with relaxing scents like lavender or frankincense can provide aromatherapy benefits as well in personal spaces.
In addition to lifestyle and sensory interventions, counseling may help children better express themselves verbally, process their emotions with healthy coping mechanisms, and build confidence. Medication can also be useful under a psychiatrist’s care when paired with other therapeutic approaches. Be patient and compassionate with your child as it may take time to discover which calming strategies work best to empower their self-regulation skills. Implementing even a few of these suggestions consistently can greatly benefit your child’s ability to self-soothe and focus.