Children can get agitated and upset at any time, especially if you are out. This can be a regular problem for neurodivergent children and can make venturing outside a huge anxiety for you. Whether you are at home, out for a meal, visiting friends or going shopping a calming bag can be a great help.
What is a Calming Bag & When to Use it
A calming bag is a quite simply a bag full of things that can help reduce your child’s sensory overload. What you put into the bag will be quite personal to your child. You should tailor it to their needs and likes for it to be the most effective.
The best time to use the calming bag is when you notice your child beginning to become overwhelmed. It will have much more impact on them and how they are feeling at this point. If you wait and reach the stage where your little one is beginning to boil over, it will have less of an effect.
The point is to create a distraction for them from the overload that they are experiencing. Giving them a single focus that they can hone in on, allowing them to shut out the excess information.
How to Make a Calming Bag
The main components of a calming bag should be tailored to the five senses. However, choosing the items to pop in your child’s bag will depend heavily on who they are. This can be a really fun activity to do with your child, getting them to think about what helps them feel comforted and calm, can also benefit them in understanding themselves a little more.
Something to LOOK at
Focusing on sight can be a great way to help a child reduce that sensory input and concentrate on just one thing. A book is a fantastic example here, perhaps one with pictures if your child is smaller. A book has the added bonus of engaging their imagination in something other than the world around them.
We use a book that has both words and images.
Something to FEEL
Giving your little one an item that they can touch, can give them a lot of comfort. Touch is a fantastic way to soothe the brain and you could add anything for this. A small teddy, fidget or favourite toy, perhaps a jumper or cushion cover they enjoy stroking.
In our calming bag there are a couple of different fidget toys. They each have different surfaces and uses, providing the sensation of something that is nice to feel. but also giving them a chance to fidget the energy away.
Something to SMELL
Smell has an incredible connection with the brain, it can evoke memories long forgotten, or remind you of a loved one. It is used to help bring people who are unconscious around, as well as entice people to shop.
When you are thinking about your calming bag, smell can be a tricky one. You want to add something that they enjoy smelling, perhaps a toy sprayed with your perfume or favourite air freshener scent, a scented Chapstick, (which has the added taste and touch aspects).
We actually have the Chapstick in our bag, smell does not have as much impact for us as the other senses. This may be the case for you with any of the items. Getting child’s bag right is a little trial and error.
Something to TASTE
You can have a lot of fun with this sense. Children enjoy a little treat and taste absolutely hits the mark in this regard. A brilliant addition to your child’s bag is a packet of sweets. You could pick their favourite ones, try new ones as this can focus all of their attention on them, or my favourite option…
Grab some super sour sweets, you can find them almost everywhere now. When your little one starts to show the signs of overload, such as irritability, not hearing you, reduced communication, change in body language to name but a few, hand them one. The sensation of the intense sour taste will mean they are unable to put their attention on anything but that taste.
Granted, they may not enjoy the sour taste, so again trial and error. The sour sweet sensation is fantastic for helping not just with sensory overload and bubbling meltdowns, but also panic attacks and anxiety.
We have sour sweets in our calming bag, my handbag and the glovebox!
Something to LISTEN to
Music soothes the soul, no matter who you are. Tastes may vary, but music speaks to everyone. Children can have incredible connections to songs and so having a playlist ready, either on your phone or maybe a MP3 player in the bag, is a great idea. Play their favourite song and have a little dance!
Of course you could also use audiobooks, animals sounds, nursery rhymes – anything that you know your child enjoys to listen to. We have a combination one playlist with top songs and another with calming sounds.
What is a Mini Calming Bag?
Depending on what your child’s bag contains, it could be quite large. A mini calming bag is simply a scaled down version that fits in a handbag or glove box. Easy to carry around and have on hand at all times.
Your mini bag may contain different items. Our mini bag is quite different but does the same job!
Let us know how you get on with the calming bag on TikTok, Instagram, Threads, Facebook and Twitter. What did your child pick? We’d love to know! If you are looking for something to help you feel better in moments of distress, why not check out our 6 Step to Creating a Box of Calm article?