The Calm Down Box: Helping Kids Self-Regulate and Capture the Quiet Moments

Our child only wants to play on my phone. My daughter can’t play by herself. Our kids say they are bored. My son can’t entertain himself. I want my child to go play outside but he only wants the iPad. Do these sound familiar to you? As a therapist my inbox and voicemail are flooded with them daily. Recently I’ve been introducing The Calm Down Box to families and it has been very successful.

The Calm Down Box

So, what can be done you ask? Plenty! A few years back I was introduced to The Calm Down Box. In its original form, The Calm Down Box was created to help children with sensory needs learn to self-regulate. Over time, The Calm Down Box has taken on many creative names and identities such as The Quiet Time Box, Quiet Corner Kit, Solo Activities Box, Road Trip Kit, Time Out Box, etc. So, what’s the point of this magical box? Self-regulation, quiet play, independent play, sensory break and non-screen activities.

What to Put in a Calm Down Box

Here are some of my favorite items to put into a Calm Down Box. Remember, all boxes can be modified for specific needs:

–Coloring pages and crayons- quiet and soothing activity

–Fidget cubes/stress balls/playdough/ kinetic sand- keeps hands busy

–Favorite book- quiet activity

–Race cars and other small toys – independent play

–Crunchy snacks- great for sensory needs and blood sugar regulation

–Legos- great for sensory and creative play

–Bubbles- calming activity

–Puff balls and pipe cleaners- great for creative play and sensory breaks

–Small stuffed animals/squishies- soothing and comforting

–Feeling chart- self-regulation tool


Below are additional resources, and tips for creating your own kit:

6 ways to make a calm down jar

–What to put in a calm down kit for kids

–Sensory cheat sheets

How to Implement The Calm Down Box

Again, Calm Down Kits can be used for a variety of needs, however the main idea is to gather several calming/soothing items into one place and prompt your child to use the kit in order to learn self-regulation, engage in independent play and non-screen time activities.

Pro tip: Encourage children to use their box for 10-30 minutes each day; make it a family event by declaring quiet play and setting a timer. The more they use the box when calm, the more they will gravitate towards it in moments of dysregulation.

Creating Your Own Calm Down Box

Here is what you need:

–Box- think old shoebox, treasure chest, etc.

–Markers, colored paper, stickers, etc. for decorating

–A list of items to include

Pro tip: Allow your child to decorate the box, this will encourage ownership and pride. In addition, engage your child in finding items from around the house that they would like to include. The more the child is involved, the more likely they will be to utilize the box.

Once you have all your items, it’s time to get busy! Decorate your box, fill it with items, and practice family quiet time! Remember, it’s never too late to teach your child self-regulation, independent play, or the importance of down time, and now you have your box full of tools to do just that!


How to be Successful in High School

Graduating from middle school and entering high school can bring about a mix of emotions.  For some, this new chapter brings excitement, a sense of adventure, and ample opportunities.  For others, the start of high school provokes anxiety, can seem overwhelming, and feel a bit intimidating.  So often I hear from parents, and soon-to-be high school freshman, that they have no idea what to expect as they begin this new chapter in life.  High school can seem scary when you don’t know what you’re doing, which is why preparing ahead of time can jumpstart your high school success.  It is never too early to start!  Here are some  tips on how to be successful in high school.

Attend orientation and join your school’s link/transition program

Attending your high school’s orientation might seem “lame” as a teenager, and exciting for Mom and Dad. Instead, look at orientation as an opportunity to learn about your school’s culture, rules, and expectations.  Many questions are answered during the orientation session and can relieve much of the stress incoming freshman experience.  Orientation is also an incredible social opportunity.  Use this time to reconnect with old friends, as well as getting to know potential new friends!

If orientation still sounds dreadful, look into your high school’s link crew or transition program.  Almost every high school offers some sort of link or transition program. It’s for incoming freshmen, and it works as a mentoring program throughout the freshman year.  These transition programs help freshmen navigate their new terrain. Each freshmen is paired with an older student who shows them around the school, give guidance on how to successfully navigate their first year, social advice (i.e. school events, information on clubs, etc.), and academic support and information they might need.  To learn more about transition programs, visit the boomerang project. You can also contact your high school about their transition program.

Stay connected before freshman year begins

Establishing strong relationships with friends is not exclusive to school.  Use summer as an opportunity to make time for your friends and talk to them about what you are looking forward to once you get to high school. Make plans to join a club at school together, go through your schedule and find out who you know in each of your classes, and make sure to join your high school’s Facebook group.  Most schools have become social media savvy. They’ve created ways to connect students with one another before school begins.  This is a great platform to ask current students questions you might have, or just another way to build new friendships.

Get organized

Before the first day of school, you should have everything you need so you do not have to scramble.  Make sure you have a copy of your schedule, all your books, binders, notebooks, and pens and pencils.  If you noticed, I said books, binders, and notebooks, as in plural. The “one-for-all” binder will not cut it in high school.  Make sure you have binders, notebooks, and folders for each of your classes and label them accordingly.  Color-coding your school supplies is also helpful and can make it easier to stay organized.

Another important organizational tool is a planner.  Be sure to get a planner, or use the planner your school provides you, to prepare and plan on a weekly basis.  Making a weekly schedule will help you get a good idea of how busy your week is and will help you schedule your time accordingly to prepare for tests, due dates for assignments, and other special events that may be happening.  Developing your organizational skills is an important part for how to be successful in high school.

Remember to breathe

If you are still feeling anxious, even after reading the tips above, try these relaxation strategies to lessen your nerves.  Deep breathing is one of the most effective anxiety reducing strategies and you can do it anywhere!  If you are walking through the main entrance of high school or sitting in your first class and you feel your heart begin to beat fast and your nerves rising, take a few long, deep breaths.  Breathe in through your nose for about 5 seconds and then out your mouth for another 5.  Deep breathing helps slow your nervous system down, lowers blood pressure, and brings more oxygen to your brain so you can think more calmly and clearly.

Another technique that can be used anywhere is visualization.  Simply close your eyes and visualize your happy place, your favorite activity, or picture your own personal cheering squad.  Challenging your anxious thoughts and reminding yourself that most freshmen feel some amount of nerves when they begin high school is also important. High school is full of new experiences and first-time situations, so it is normal to feel nervous from time-to-time.  You are not alone!


How to Keep Prom Events Safe, Simple, and Fun

The flowers are in bloom, we are enjoying more sunshine, and most kids have started their countdown to summer vacation. This can only mean one thing; spring is here! For high school students, this means Prom weekend is approaching.  Parents know that this is an exciting and memorable time for their high school students; however, with the dress shopping and tux rentals come the inevitable stressors. I am sharing a few “prom hacks” concerning how to have fun at prom while keeping events simple and safe.

Safety first

As parents you play a multi-faceted role in your child’s prom experience. In addition to hearing about the creative way that son or daughter asked (or was asked!) part of your role is also to set a few guidelines to ensure their safety.

Start by planning ahead. Once the prom group is formed you can ask your teen to share their date’s and their parent’s contact information. Forming an email chain with the other parents can be a helpful way to discuss pre-and-post prom events, note start and end times, and confirm safe transportation options. Once plans are in place you can make your expectations for the weekend’s events explicit.

Remind your son or daughter that their safety is your first priority.  Discuss prom night rules with your teen; this can include setting a curfew for the evening and asking them to check-in via text or calling once they have arrived to the events safely. Be sure to remind your teen about the dangers of drinking and driving. Consider offering to help them setup a driving service to promote ease and safety. If your teen needs help because of a driver who has been drinking encourage them to call you – no questions asked. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Less stress is best

Think strength in numbers. Once you have your parental email chain in place offer to co-host pre-or-post prom events with the other Moms and Dads. No need to take on full responsibility alone. There are bound to be a few sets of involved parents who are available and willing to help out with weekend events, even in small ways. Divide and conquer the “to-do” list so no single person feels the whole burden. Having extra sets of eyes around is a great way to ensure adequate supervision. If you teen is not keen on the idea of your presence at their party, simply inform them that you are there to help out the hosts. Assure them you want them to have a fun at prom!

Have some fun at prom!

It is prom weekend after all! Coordinating a prom group is no task for the faint of heart. If your teen is stressing about complicated group dynamics, encourage them to put together their own (perhaps smaller) group. This can be a great way to sidestep some of the stress while still making sure they have fun at prom and get to enjoy the company of their good friends all evening long. That is what matters most anyway! Some teens feel overwhelmed by all of the prom-related hype. Remind your teen that the outcome of their evening is all about their perspective. Invite them to notice the small meaningful moments of the night, instead of focusing solely on the things that did not go “as planned.” Take a peek at this this article for suggestions on how to help your teen cope with pre-prom anxiety. Before they head out, let them know that you would love to hear all about their evening and see their pictures once the weekend has ended. Letting your teen know that you care about the things that matter to them builds trust and respect in the parent-child relationship.


Prom holds a lot of expectation, which can add pressure to your teen’s experience of the weekend’s events.  By weaving some of these “prom hacks” into the mix, both you and your teen are likely to sidestep some of the unneeded stress so everyone can focus on what matters most; having a fun, memorable, and safe weekend!


3 Fun Ways to Involve Children in Decorating and Setting the Thanksgiving Table

Can you believe it’s already Thanksgiving? Are the kids ready for a few days off?  This is the time of the year where families come together to celebrate one another and give thanks for what we have. You might be wondering how to get your kids into the spirit of the holiday, be thankful, and work together in a healthy way. Below are three ways to help your children learn positive independent skills while decorating for the holiday.

Craft Projects for the Kidsnsfs-thanksgiving-table-shutterstock_322123175

  1. Handmade Turkey Place Settings

Materials: Scissors, construction paper, and crayons/markers/colored pencils

Procedure: Have your child trace his/her hand on a piece of brown paper.  On the thumb draw the face of a turkey. In the palm of the hand, write the person’s name who will be sitting at the table.  On the other four fingers (the feathers) write four positive things about that person.  Cut out the handmade turkey and place it on the table where that person will be sitting. It will be a nice surprise for your family and friends!

  1. Painted Tablecloth

Materials: Paint (orange, red, brown, yellow, green), markers, paper plates, white tablecloth (easily found at the dollar store), and leaves (from outside)

Procedure:  Have your child pick out four leaves from the front yard. (There are always a ton in the yard around this time of the year). Place the the white tablecloth down on the table. Use the paper plates to pour the different color paint on each plate.  Dip the leaves in the paint and onto the cloth. Repeat with the different colored paint and the different leaves to make a colorful cloth. Lastly, have your child dip their hands in the brown paint to make hand turkeys. This table cloth can be used as an unique cloth for the appetizer, dessert, or kids table.

  1. Turkey Napkin Rings

Materials: Construction paper, wiggle eyes, scissors, markers/crayons/colored pencils, glue, empty paper towel tube (cut in about 1 and 1/2 inches)

Procedure: Have your child cut out a circle for the head of the Turkey on brown construction paper ( it should be half the size of the paper towel ring). Glue the wiggle eyes on the circle and draw (or cut on yellow construction paper) the beak. Glue the head onto the ring.  While that is drying, cut out different colored feathers on the construction paper. Glue them on the inside of the ring behind the turkey head. When it is finished, slide the napkin into the ring and put it on the plate. It is a festive way to add a personal touch!

Remember to be enthusiastic and proud of your child’s work. This helps encourage positive self-esteem and independent skills. Remind your kids that things don’t need to be perfect, but they just need to have fun!


Help! My Teen is a Perfectionist!

Is Your Teen a Perfectionist?

  • Is perfectionism and the pressures of daily life controlling your teen?
  • Does your teen have difficulties starting or completing a new task for fear that he or she will fail?
  • Is your teen struggling with schoolwork or participating in their after-school or athletic activities?

For many teenagers in our society, aiming for perfection and the overwhelming fear of failure is an unfortunate reality. Unlike “high-achievers,” many teens will often set lofty goals and assume complete failure if the goal isn’t met with sheer precision and perfection. These teens run the risk of constant disappointment, which can lead to the development of anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues, eating disorders, and potential family and peer conflict. In order to mitigate the potential effects of perfectionism, consider the following strategies to help your teen find more balance in their daily life:

1) Promote Hard Work Rather Than Perfectionism

Encourage your teenager to consider goals that feel realistic and manageable, while still aiming for a challenge. It can be helpful to have conversations at the start of the new school year with your teen about his or her expectations and goals they have in mind. This can be a great opportunity to help your teen modify or eliminate goals that may be too overwhelming, such as participating three honors classes. Instead, encourage your teen to participate in one advanced class so they are able to dedicate their time to a challenge while also finding time for self-care, social events, and after-school sports and activities.

2) Defeat Negative Patterns of Thinking

Perfectionism is often associated with negative and self-defeating thoughts. These irrational thoughts will only exacerbate your teen’s anxiety and make it more challenging to find small successes and confidence within themselves. Teens will often use “all of nothing” thinking (such as failure or perfection) or engage in “catastrophic thinking” (a small mistake or error on a test will predict an “F” in the class). Encourage your teen to use a basic Cognitive Behavior Therapy technique called cognitive restructuring, where he or she can reframe or challenge the irrational thoughts. Help your teen to replace the irrational thought with a more positive thought or fact that is more grounded in reality. For example, we can change “I failed my science quiz and I’m going to fail the class” to “I didn’t do my best on this quiz, but I have many opportunities to ask my teacher for and the remainder of the semester to work hard.”


3) Cope with Stress and Anxiety in Healthy Ways

Foster a safe space for your teen to express their emotions and talk about their stressors. Often times, having an outlet and using healthy emotional expression skills can drastically reduce the pressures and anxiety your teen is experiencing. Encourage your teen to cope in positive and healthy ways, rather than internalizing and shutting down, Avoid negative coping skills such as immersing themselves in screens and electronics or napping to avoid the stress. Validate your teen’s concerns and anxieties while also challenging him or her to cope in healthy ways. This will look different for each teenage but can include playing sports or talking with his or her peers, listening to music, going for a run, journaling, drawing or even downloading a breathing or guided mediation app on their smartphone.

Talk with your teen about how he or she can view mistakes as opportunities to learn rather than total failures. Model positive self-talk and encourage your teen to “aim high” without resorting to perfectionism and self-defeating patterns of thinking in their academic and social worlds.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” – J. K. Rowling



Homecoming- No Date?

It’s Homecoming Time

The weather is getting cooler, the leaves will be turning soon, football season is underway, and of course, pumpkin spice is back! This all means that Homecoming is just around the corner.  homecoming

Maybe your teen is excited because they already have a date, the dress picked out and they have been practicing the newest dance moves. However, some teens may find this night creeping up a little too fast because they don’t have a date. They may be thinking that everyone else has a date but them. They may be worrying that they will be the only one without plans on that night.

Dateless for Homecoming

No Date? No problem! Here are a few tips to make being dateless a little less stressful.

  • Ask around! Not everyone has a date. Encourage your teen to use their networking skills! Whether they ask friends, friends of friends, or even someone from a different school, there is someone out there that doesn’t have a date and is just waiting to be asked.
  • Encourage them to go with a group of friends! Dates are overrated and purely optional for homecoming. Have your teen grab a group of friends and go to the dance! This can be more fun anyway. They wouldn’t be tied down to any one person; they can mingle with other people at the dance, or just hang out with their friends all night. There is also no pressure to match their dress with their date’s outfit. There is no pressure to dance those awkward slow dances. They can just have fun, dance, and enjoy the night.
  • Help them make some alternate plans! They may not want to ask just anyone and they don’t want to go solo to the dance. Help them make some plans. Take them to a restaurant they have wanted to go to or take a train ride to the city and go window-shopping. Take a drive to look at the changing leaves. Find something that will take their mind off of Homecoming and allow them to have a good story of why they couldn’t make the dance.

Not having a date for Homecoming seems like a disaster to your teen, but it doesn’t have to be. Encourage them to get involved with the school spirit days and the rivalry Friday night football game. Remember, Homecoming isn’t just about the dance!



TEENS – Summer Fun without Screens

Summer: School’s Out/Now What

Summer is a time to relax and enjoy without the stress of school.  The weather is hot, the pools are open, friends are in abundance, and the excitement is in the air. By the end of July, the summer excitement begins to fizzle out and the pool, beach, and usual activities are becoming redundant (read: BORING) to teens.

They Only Want to Be on their Phones/Tablets/Games

As the end of summer freedom approaches, it gets more and more difficult to keep the teens entertained without their electronics. However, too much screen time can lead to sleep, mood, and cognitive problems. Going overboard on screen time can interfere with the brain’s reward system making electronics addictive. Electronics and video games can release dopamine in the brain, which is the feel good chemical.

Too much stimulation can cause the reward system to become less sensitive and need more to get the same effect; like a drug.  So what’s a parent to do?

Here is a list of 21 screen-free activities.

  1. Challenge your kids to complete 3 activities each day before using their electronics.
  2. Bake cookies, cakes, pies, etc
  3. Walk to your local library and check out a book!
  4. Go bowling
  5. Make a collage of your favorite pictures, quotes, etc.
  6. Organize your room
  7. Check out one of your local parks and trails for hiking
  8. Ride you bike
  9. Go Rollerblading or ice skating at your local rink
  10. Design a scavenger hunt for a future party with your friends
  11. Visit a museum
  12. Make a piñata
  13. Learn to play an instrument – check out garage sales to find one!
  14. Make an obstacle course
  15. Carve a watermelon
  16. Play some board games – complete a game of Monopoly.
  17. Make a time capsule, bury it for 5 years.
  18. Make your own candy
  19. Take pictures in your local park or city.
  20. Go fishing
  21. Make a kite and fly it


Make your own list of activities.  If you need some resources, check out these sites:


A New Year in Elementary School: 8 Tips for Maintaining Success throughout the Year

Fall means that summer temperatures begin to drop, leaves start to change color and school is in full swing. The onset of a new school year is exciting for some kids as they settle back in to school, reunite with friends and resume learning. For other kids, a new school year may evoke less desirable feelings, such as anxiety Shutterstock girl excited about schoolabout the  year to come. As parents and caregivers, it is important to be aware of how your child experiences that transition back to school and the pressures they experience throughout the year, in order to support them and set them up for success.

1) Attend Open House, parent-teacher conferences and other school events. These opportunities provide the opportunity to form a relationship with your child’s teacher and other adults that interact with your child on a daily basis. This effort is also a way to lead by example. This action demonstrates your commitment to the school and investment in your kid’s education.

2) Have an open dialogue with your kids about school. Make sure your kids know that they can talk to you about the good, as well as the bad, regarding school.

3) Validate any feelings of frustration, dislike, sadness or worry they might have. Kids need to know that their feelings are normal and they will get through this.

4) Remind them that other kids feel the same way and that adjusting to a new year, as well as maintaining rigor, can be hard, but that we adapt and persevere.

5) Provide examples of other instances that your son/daughter demonstrated persistence. Reminding kids of their success in difficult times helps them become more resilient, giving them the “I can do it” attitude.

6) Expect some ebb and flow of emotions. Kids may change their mind about school by the day, hour or even minute! This may indicate excitement surrounding areas of confidence and success, as well as those aspects of school that trigger anxiety or dislike.

7) Help your child to acknowledge the positives and problem solve surrounding the negatives. For example, if your child is concerned about keeping up in math, brainstorm some solutions, such as, relying on the on the skills they already have, asking their teacher for help and working on homework together.

8) Involve your kids in signing up for extra-curricular or social activities. Extracurricular activities can provide a great opportunity for further learning, enjoyment and character development, if you child wants to be there. When kids feel that they had a role in the decision making process, they may present with increased dedication. By soliciting their input in activities, kids may experience an increased sense of control over the situation. When extracurricular activities are school-sponsored or engage kids your children see at school, they provide an additional opportunity to form a positive connection to school.

Kids at the elementary age need to explore which activities they enjoy and have success. Allow them these opportunities without “over scheduling” them where they resent not being able to have downtime to play with friends.

Good luck! Have a great school year!


Lollapalooza: What Parents Need to Discuss with Teenagers

shutterstock_195516488This weekend, Chicago hosts one of the biggest festivals in America, Lollapalooza. Lollapalooza is compared to Woodstock, perhaps because of the free-for-all, hippy-freedom atmosphere, not to mention the incomparable music. It draws over 100,000 people each day for the three day festival and is well-attended by teens. They love the music and hanging with friends. Yet, the lack of supervision can pose great risks too.

Lurie Children’s Hospital reports that during last year’s festival, 102 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 20 were admitted to the hospital for drinking related incidences. This was over twice the number of admits at the second highest weekend festival, Spring Awakening. Reports indicate that a majority of the people who are admitted to the hospital are white females from the North Shore. So, it DOES happen with OUR kids here in the ‘burbs.

How to Talk to Your Teen about Drinking/Drugs/Risky Behavior at Any Music Festival:

  • Discuss with your teenager that staying with friends is important. Safety in numbers. Always.
  • Never accept anything or give anything to anyone you do not know. I know it sounds like common sense, but teens are not the least impulsive people and sometimes do not think clearly about what is happening around them.
  • Be mindful of their own surroundings. If it seems “off”, it probably is.
  • Have them discuss a plan with friends about not drinking and watching out for each other. Make sure they STICK to it!
  • Keep their money in a location in FRONT of them, so they have access to it easily, but pick-pocketers don’t.
  • Have access to money if something happens and they need to take a cab or buy food/water quickly.
  • Eat well before they leave home. A full stomach slows the absorption of alcohol if they choose to drink (and don’t tell you)
  • Make sure that even when they are drinking water or non-alcoholic drink that they never put their drink down or hand it to someone else. Most “date drugs” are colorless, odorless, and tasteless.
  • Establish rules and consequences. Rules might include no underage drinking, leaving parties where alcohol is served and not riding in a car with a driver who’s been drinking. Agree on the consequences of breaking the rules ahead of time — and enforce them consistently.
  • Come up with a shared code word that will help both of you understand your teenager needs you as soon as possible.

The links below share more information about the festivals and alcohol consumption risks and statistics.

What other advice would you tell parents to tell their kids prior to music festivals like Lollapalooza?

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