The toddler years are full of learning, laughter, tears and yes – tantrums. Tantrums can occur when your little one doesn’t know how else to express what they’re feeling, particularly when they’re overstimulated. Strategies involving calming the senses – sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste – can sometimes effectively reduce physical stimulation to help minimise emotional stress.
Make a soft space
Surrounding your little one in cosy fabrics can help soften physical stimulation, not to mention create a comfortable and cuddly space for them. When your little one becomes overwhelmed at home, it can be helpful to have a soft area ready to go in the nursery.
You can set this space up in a teepee, under a blanket fort, or just in the corner of the room. Fill the area with plush blankets, squishy cushions, soft toys, and any other special item that helps to calm your toddler. Supervise them as they relax in here; you may even be able to transition into sharing a cuddle or having a play. Always keep an eye on your toddler in their soft space and never leave pillows in the crib.
Wrap them in a blanket
Remember swaddling your little one when they were a baby? That tight hug feeling usually remains comforting to us, even as we become adults, because deep pressure on our bodies provides proprioceptive input (which can assist in controlling responses to sensory stimuli for some people). If it's something your little one responds well to, you can “swaddle” your toddler using a blanket, giving their body sensory pressure. Always make sure you always leave their head uncovered, and communicate with them and respect their wishes if they don't like the feeling of being restrained. A deep, tight, calming hug can work the same way for some kids, too!
Weighted blanket/bean bag squish/foam roller
A bit of weight on the body can help calm and reduce stress in children and adults. For example, a weighted blanket might help but always abide by safe sleeping practises.
Reducing visual stimulation by dimming the lights can help calm down a hyped-up or stressed out tot. If you have dimmer switches, you can turn them down. Otherwise, try turning some lights off, hopping under a blanket with them for some softer light or darkness, or give them an eye mask and encourage them to wear it while they use their imagination.
Sensory bottles or sensory bins
Fill jars, transparent bottles, buckets or tubs with all sorts of stimulating objects to focus your little one’s attention – almost like mindfulness. A bottle or jar with a lid could be filled with coloured non-toxic dye, glitter, sequins, small toys and anything else colourful but make sure the lid is tightly sealed so that your toddler cannot open it and keep your eye on your toddler. Watch as your little one shakes these up with their eyes glued to the fun.
A sensory bin can be a bit more interactive with tactile elements. Start with a filler in the tub – rice, shredded paper, small clean pebbles, even yoghurt if you’re comfortable with some potential mess. Then add small items for your toddler to fish out – stress balls, toys, shells, plastic cutlery… anything you don’t mind cleaning afterwards and isn’t a choking hazard. Always supervise your little one when playing with small objects.
While doing any of these activities, you can pair it with some of the other senses. Perhaps some soft, calm music will help calm your toddler. Or maybe a fragrance like lavender essential oil or a candle will help them focus on one sense rather than being overwhelmed by lots of stimuli, which might help relax them.`