Are you teaching children how to focus and calm down?

Are you teaching children how to focus and calm down?

Young children are notorious for being distracted and emotionally intense. Our work as teachers (or parents) of young children is very challenging – especially working with so many children together in the classroom.

I received two emails this week asking for advice on helping children to focus or calm themselves down so I put together some of my favorite tricks of the trade for this blog post. The important thing to remember is that children need to be taught how to focus or calm down! The more we model and help children practice these skills, the better they will learn (and the easier our lives will be!)

Focusing Skills:

    • Tracking. Teach children to keep their eyes on the person who is talking. This is a simple skill, but many distracted children don’t practice it! Always make sure the children are looking at you or other children who are talking. They should also turn their body to face the speaker. Here’s a video that shows how to teach this skill:

  •  Take a Break and Return: During independent work, all of us take frequent breaks from concentration, even if we don’t notice it (how often have you checked Pinterest lately?) Teach children to take quick breaks such as looking out the window, stretching their arms or legs, or closing their eyes for a moment. Then teach them to get right back to what they were doing. Visual aids can help. Tape a picture of a child working (either listening to the teacher or working on their seatwork) and write: Am I Focused? on it as a reminder. Here’s an example:
  • Fidget Toys: It sounds counter-intuitive but some children respond very well to a small toy that they can “fidget” with. These can help the child find something to do with his or her hands instead of bothering others or finding something to play with. They also help children who daydream and zone out. Here are some examples:

Self-Calming Skills:

  •  Candle and Flower Breathing: Teach this simple and very effective skill to teach before children need it! The act of deep breathing helps to counteract the physical aspects of stress in our bodies.
  •  Quiet Corner: Establish a section of your room that children can sit in quietly to regain their control. This should not be a punishment, but rather a support – make it comfy with pillows, stuffed animals, and so on. Here’s one of the many ideas you can find on Pinterest:
  •  Tucker Turtle Technique: This proven strategy teaches young children to stop, tuck into themselves like a turtle, take three breaths to calm down, and then think of a better idea. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations of Early Learning has good resources for this technique – and many others!


  •  Here are some other excellent ideas for elementary age children from the Responsive Classroom and more ideas from The Positive Classroom on this topic.

For all of these skills, it is important to model and give the child plenty of practice before the skills are really needed. Remember that behavior change takes time- weeks, months, years so you need to persevere. These skills can be taught and they can make a big difference in a child’s life!

Feel free to share in the comments other strategies you’ve found that have been helpful for teaching children to focus and calm down!