How can we help our children learn to self-soothe when they are emotionally dysregulated or overstimulated? What do our senses have to do with it? And how can we leverage each of our sensory inputs the next time things are getting a little too stressful, both for ourselves and our kids?
This week, I’m speaking with Jeana Kinne about sensory strategies for self-soothing. Jeana is a veteran preschool teacher and director who has been working with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers for over 20 years. She’s also a published author whose first book, Soothing Sammy, offers sensory strategies to teach kids how to calm down and is currently being implemented in schools and homes all over the world.
Join us on this episode to learn 7 sensory strategies to help kids self-soothe. You’ll hear how everyone, from infants to adults, can benefit from learning self-soothing techniques, how these strategies can be used either to stimulate or have a calming effect, and Jeana is offering her insights on two bonus sensory inputs you may not have heard of before.
How do you help your child learn to self-soothe when they may be feeling emotionally dysregulated or overstimulated? Today I am talking with Jeana Kinne, who is going to give us seven strategies for helping kids learn to self-soothe, and they’re based on our seven sensory inputs. Now, I had always kind of heard of the five senses. And so it was kind of fun to get to hear about these two extra bonus ones you’ll kind of get at the end. I think you’ll kind of love that. It’s kind of fascinating.
Jeana Kinne has a master’s degree in early childhood education curriculum development and has been working with infants, toddlers and preschoolers for the past 20 years. She has worked with children with special needs and typically developing children in a wide variety of professions. Jeana is also a published author. Her first book, Soothing Sammy uses sensory strategies to teach calm down skills to children ages two through six years old and is currently implemented in school districts, private school, preschools and homes throughout the world.
She is very smart and it’s fun to talk to her and get some really good ideas. I think you’ll enjoy this episode. It’s coming up right after this.
Welcome to the Raising Healthy Kid Brains podcast where moms and teachers come to learn all about kids’ brains, how they work, how they learn, how they grow and simple tips and tricks for raising the most resilient, kind, smart, compassionate kids we can. All while having lots of grace and compassion for ourselves because you know what? We all really need and deserve that too. I am your host, Amy Nielson. Let’s get ready to start the show.
Amy: Jeana, I’m so happy to have you on today. Welcome to the show.
Jeana: Thanks for having me.
Amy: This is going to be so fun. So Jeana and I did a Facebook Live years ago and kind of inspired this episode that we’re going to do. And we are talking about seven ways to teach children to self-soothe. Did I do that right?
Jeana: Yeah, that’s right. It’s about self-regulation strategies, using our bodies to calm ourselves down.
Amy: Using our bodies to calm ourselves down. And this is, this works for young children, would you say? What age ranges is this really good for?
Jeana: It can work anywhere from 18 months all the way up to adulthood.
Amy: Awesome. So we can use these too?
Jeana: Yeah, definitely.
Amy: Fantastic. Sometimes, amazingly enough, parents have to self-soothe also, emotionally regulate. A little minute when someone’s throwing a tantrum or something, we might need a breath, and then we can help them co-regulate with us. Alright, I love it. So talk to me, where did these seven strategies come from?
Jeana: So our sensory system is basically comprised of seven different input sections into our body. And occupational therapists talk about this a lot. How, when we’re overwhelmed or overstimulated, we can use those different areas to help us calm down. So there’s about seven different sensory pathways you could call them, into your body that either triggers you and overstimulates you or it can help calm you down if you know the ways to engage with them.
Amy: So some of these could cause additional issues if we were using them incorrectly but then we could also do the opposite to kind of bring it down?
Jeana: Right, exactly. I always tell an example of if you walked into a preschool classroom and it was really noisy and there were lots of vibrant colors on the wall and very busy and no room to run around. And so you see all these kids really overstimulated versus if you walk into a room that has the calm colors and a quieter atmosphere and centers set up so they can walk around and be individual places or places where they can play together. You see completely different behaviors from the kids.
So senses are just impacted by everyday life. And the same kids, if you go to the amusement park can be really overstimulating versus if you walk into a spa.
Amy: Right. Yes, which is so calming.
Jeana: You feel totally different, right?
Amy: Yeah, I feel that. A totally different feeling, yes. I’m relating with you very well. So you talked about seven senses and I feel like I’m only used to hearing about the five. And of course, we do that during our preschool of five senses week, whatever. So let’s go through the first five and kind of maybe touch on those briefly. And then I’m really excited to hear about the last two. And of course, you and I have talked about this already. So let’s get to hear our first five and then I’m excited about the two that we don’t hear about and that are kind of really powerful. So I’m excited about that.
Jeana: Right, they are very powerful.
Amy: Let’s start with touch. So what are some things to help self-soothe with that?
Jeana: So tactile or touching it is a way for your body to figure out what’s going on in its immediate environment. Your body surface is full of tactile receptors. So every spot on your skin you can feel when somebody touches you. And so if you touch something that you don’t like, you immediately move your hand back or if you touch the grass with your feet and it’s wet or sticky or pokey, you move back. So different textures and temperatures are felt by all these different receptors. So hot versus cold, slimy, not slimy, and your body interprets those things in different ways.
So if you were to calm a child down, who’s feeling a little bit overstimulated, you’d want to give them things that feel calming or soft, things that are soft to the touch, not pokey or scratchy, things that can be squished. You can look at wet washcloth to wash your face. Your face is feeling the wetness and the coolness and you’re rubbing in that kind of motion that’s calming. If you look at touch and you want to do Play-Doh, that’s sometimes calm if you don’t have a squishy ball. If they can pull different items apart or put things together and they’re really feeling that motion with their hands.
Same thing with you see kids in sensory bins or the letters, if they’re teaching the letters with the sand writing trays. We do this a lot in the office, the teachers have their own little pocket of sand that they can put their fingers in and kind of move around and watch it fall. Or there’s even a new thing I saw online the other day that they have under people that work in offices, have little sandboxes underneath their desks. They put their feet in and you move your feet around in the sand and it just instantly calms you. So it’s so interesting to see, yeah, how that whole touch just kind of keeps you regulated and focused and calm.
Amy: Is there any part of that that is like, and so this might be difficult to do in some cases in a classroom, but at home, what about physical touch from a parent, is that a thing that’s calming? Sometimes it feels like that’s stimulating too, sometimes they don’t want touch. Is that a thing that could be helpful or not helpful?
Jeana: It just depends on the child’s, I call it kind of their emotional stance at that exact moment, are they wanting you close to them or are they not? They’ll let you know when they’re ready. You’ll see a deep pressure kind of [inaudible] calming, that’s more of something we’ll talk about later, that’s more effective for the vestibular system. But the light touch, I would say, is what would fall under tactile.
Amy: Good to know. I’m thinking of things like a basket of a squishy ball and maybe a little comforter or a blanket or a favorite stuffed animal or something that’s soft. Smell, we talked a little bit about smell. What would that look like?
Jeana: Yeah. So smell is a big thing. If you walk in your room and you do not like the way something smells, you will immediately turn the other direction and run away, so the same thing opposite. If you walk in your room and you smell lavender, it calms you down. All these essential oils that are so big right now, it’s because of the sense of smell. Same thing for, so lavender does it, if we walk into a house that’s baking cookies or brownies or apple pie or all those scented candles, those are all really calming.
So smelling can immediately bring you back and it either triggers kind of your memory into something that you love, which helps calm down. So if you smell cookies, you’re automatically happy. It triggers your emotion or you’re hungry, one or the other one. Yeah, so smell is a big one, if the kids are really overstimulated and you breathe in something. We do usually do orange mist or the lavender or apple spice or something like that. You could have that on cotton balls, you can have it on the washcloth. Lotion, that’s doing two things at once, touch and smell together. Those can all help calm down.
Amy: I love that. And I love that we just now have a really good excuse for making cookies in the name of helping our children emotionally regulate. Excellent. I always look for a reason to have more cookies. Okay, so let’s keep going. So sight, let’s talk about sight and what that might look like.
Jeana: Yeah, sight is a big one, that is something that we talk about, like what I was saying, if you walk into a room and you have red walls, how does that make you feel versus if you had the calm earth tone walls? Or if a wall was covered with 15 different photos and it’s a small wall versus one or two. It’s cluttered and it makes you feel overwhelmed.
So visual sight is a big one. If you want to have a calming space, you want to have something that’s less visual stimulating. Same thing for if you’re looking at helping a child calm down, show them a picture of something they love. So you’re talking about a puppy, picture of their pet or show them a picture of a fun family vacation that they went on. Or if they’re at school, have family books, which is super important, pictures of their mom and dad and them, something to bring them comfort.
Amy: Yeah. I like that so much. So I like the idea of having if you have a quiet corner or a calm down corner, it could be kind of not so visually stimulating. But then also that tool of giving them something to look at that would bring comfort and memory and calming. I love that. That’s amazing.
Jeana: Exactly. It’s all of our senses impact our feelings and emotions.
Amy: Yeah. So good. Okay, this one, I think is really, really relevant. Tell us all the tips. So sound, hearing, what do we do for that?
Jeana: Yeah. So sound, think overstimulating sounds, loud rock music playing in the background or walking outside and the train’s going by, not stimulating for me or the airplanes, you’re in a really hustle, bustle busy street. It’s making you anxious, there’s all these different sounds. The fire alarm going off, why does that trigger us? It’s because it’s loud and it makes us unsure and it wakes us out of sleep. So what you want to do is create an environment where there’s softer sounds, there’s the choir music. There’s instrumental music playing maybe.
If a child’s overwhelmed, music’s really good, familiar voices are important, sounds of nature can calm you down, ocean soundtracks, nature soundtracks that you see online. You can download some of those and play those ongoing. The auditory sense is what the hearing is called and it’s one of the most powerful impacts for young children because they hear everything. Yelling at them from across the room overstimulates them versus coming up close to them, getting to their level and talking to them is not as stimulating.
So when you’re looking at behavior and the impacts that voices have on behavior, you want to make sure you keep that in mind.
Amy: Yeah, absolutely.
Jeana: The tone of your voice can change but the level of sound of your voice is what impacts them the most.
Amy: Interesting. Okay, so tone a little bit can maybe help them understand level of seriousness because I can say the same thing and be joking and then say it kind of serious and my kids can tell the difference. But I don’t have to raise the volume, it’s just maybe switching your tone a little bit.
Jeana: Exactly. If you raise the volume all of a sudden they go into a shutdown mode. But if you just change your tone while you’re talking to them, then they are alert. They’re like, something’s different.
Amy: Right. Pay attention, the pay attention tone.
Jeana: Yeah, exactly. The mama voice, the teacher voice, yeah.
Amy: That’s funny. I tend to be fairly quiet. I don’t have a really loud voice. I come from a family of 12 kids and I just was at my family reunion this last weekend and when there’s 12 kids in a room and you’re all trying to talk and we all like to chat. So it’s kind of whoever can talk the loudest and I lose because I am not the loudest. But I have noticed with my kids that if they hear just a little bit different tone then they know whether I’m kind of in a fun mode or if I’m like, okay, we’re for real now, it’s time. It is actually time to go to bed now.
Jeana: Right. And you can put that too, if they’re overwhelmed and feeling insecure and you use a softer tone, they’re [inaudible].
Amy: And we can make it fun and take away, break some of the tension. Absolutely. So important, I think. This one, I’m just kind of curious about. So taste, yeah, how does that work in a calming situation and self-soothing?
Jeana: So taste and I’m going to look at the actual word for this because I want to say it right, it’s called gustatory G-U-S-T-A-T-O-R-Y is the actual word for the sense of taste. It’s fascinating if your child enjoys the way a piece of food tastes in their mouth, it instantly calms them down. Their taste buds are huge. So if you’re thinking about taste for calm down, you can have water or you can have a lemon [inaudible] or apple juice or something that is instantly engaging with your body.
So the actual movement of your lips, the impact the liquid has on your tongue and the swallowing mechanism. All of that all at once automatically brings your body from an overwhelm state down to an in present state. I’m here and I’m drinking, I’m feeling this in my body and I’m now here and I’m able to kind of process what’s going on.
Amy: That’s so fascinating. And it makes me come up with all kinds of questions around food and how we use it sometimes to self-soothe. So that one, I think maybe wouldn’t be my first go to every time, although I can see how it could be helpful. But I like that there’s so many options and then you can kind of mix them and use maybe a combination or kind of pick the ones that work best for you and your child.
Jeana: Right. Even just water will calm you down.
Amy: Or sucking on a piece of ice maybe if it’s not a choke hazard.
Jeana: It’s really the motion and the feeling in your mouth. So you’re feeling the coolness. You’re feeling if you’re overwhelmed overstimulated in the morning, mom, you go get coffee, because it’s the taste of coffee. It’s not even the caffeine, it’s just kind of your morning ritual. Tasting the coffee taste helps you stay calm or the tea. So that is what we’re doing with little kids is, it’s water or something healthy, but it’s giving you that same input and [crosstalk].
Amy: Oh, this is so interesting. I’m so excited for these last two because they’re not in the five senses unit. So what are these last two? Tell us about these.
Jeana: So one of them is called proprioceptive, and that is kind of how your body is reading different pressure points. So for example, if you go to the gym and you lift weights, the way you feel on your joints and your muscles, that’s proprioceptive input. So if you see stuff that is sensory vests where you do big squeezes on your kids, that’s proprioceptive. But they’re feeling it, that deep pressure touch. That’s what’s calming them down.
If you’re crunching on a carrot because it’s hard and you’re getting it in your teeth and in your joints with your jaws, you’re instantly calming down. Gum is a good example for that. If you’re stressed out and you chew gum and it’s calming you down, you’re getting proprioceptive input that way.
Amy: I had wondered about gum earlier and I was the mom that never let my kids have gum because I didn’t like outside of the mouth and what happened when it came out. But I was thinking about gum when we were talking about taste and maybe even tactile, I don’t know if that’s really more taste. But then, yeah, that proprioceptive maybe a little bit. Interesting.
Jeana: Right. I put it in the proprioceptive side because not in the taste of the gum that’s calming them down, it’s the actual chewing motion. So the input that you’re feeling in your jaw, that’s helping you calm.
Amy: Wow. So would this be impacted?
Jeana: So if you don’t want to eat gum or you don’t like a lot of [inaudible] or I don’t want this stuff in the classroom. That’s where deep pressure is or what I like to do for [inaudible], I don’t know if we talked about that at all. But it’s to put a red or some kind of spot on the carpet for jumping because that gives the same input. So here’s a visual, you can jump in this spot up and down. When you jump, you’re still getting that pressure on your knees, on your feet. Rolling around on the ground gives you that pressure, anything that gives you input.
Heavy work, a lot of things, if you look up heavy work in an occupational therapy world, they give you a ton of ideas, pushing and pulling baskets that are filled with flour. Or when you’re cleaning up carrying that really heavy block from one side of the classroom to the other, all of that falls under that proprioceptive piece.
Amy: Would that even include things like, so I’m thinking jumping is such a brilliant idea and I love that you have a spot for it. This is the spot for jumping, which makes it all of a sudden really magical to be able to jump in the spot, which is fantastic. It’s like walking or skipping or anything like that, would that also be hitting those joints and getting those pressure to your joints?
Jeana: It would, yeah, it would as long as you’re making an impact on your deep pressure part of your body. It kind of crosses into the next one we’re talking about when you’re doing this. But yeah, those you can say are proprioceptive if they’re getting kind of those deep muscles, yeah.
Amy: The joints. Okay, let’s go on to the vestibular then and talk about this one.
Jeana: Yeah. So your vestibular is where your body is in space. So that is the movement aspect to it, skipping what you were talking about. Swinging, when your body is moving back and forth and dancing like ballet or spinning. That’s called vestibular input. So it’s where is your body in space, if you have an ear ache or if you’re off balance, that’s your vestibular system. There’s something going on with your vestibular system, when you get really, really dizzy. So if you move in a calmer way, like the swinging back and forth or the dancing, you’re kind of controlling where your body is going, that’s calming.
Amy: That is so fascinating. Okay, so some of these things I feel like could also stimulate. So I’m thinking if you have a classroom of kids and they’re all jumping, we just listened to kid rap or something. I can’t remember what it was called. There’s a song about blanket forts and it was at our family reunion and the whole room was just jamming and break dancing. That’s the blanket fort song. Check it out if you haven’t heard it, it’s amazing.
So I’m saying something like that and jumping around and that feels like that would stimulate rather than calm. So how does that work where we take things that could, like skipping or jumping and make them a calming thing instead of a stimulating?
Jeana: So it’s where is the child on an emotional, we call it an emotional path. If you’re looking at a chart and they’re way up here in the red and they’re way overstimulated and having a hard time calming down, that’s when jumping is going to calm them down. If they’re way down low and they’re not participating in something or they’re looking like their bodies are having wiggles during circle time. That’s when they get up and jump. And it actually stimulates them enough to get their energy out and then they’re calm.
So it comes from two different angles, they’re either already overstimulated and they need to calm down. We see this a lot with kids with autism, they need sensory breaks. They need to go over, jump on the trampoline for five minutes and then they’re fine. They got that input that they needed. Or kids that are the opposite, where they need to be, they’re called under-stimulated in their sensory system, they need to have the jumping to raise them kind of up into what a typical stimulation pattern looks like.
I’m not an occupational therapist, but that’s kind of what is kind of known in the sensory world as the different aspects of sensory processing. So there’s a big sensory processing field, occupational therapists and they look at kids individually to determine where are they on the spectrum of that, that sensory need. What they need for a sensory diet is what they call it, to bring them to that baseline [inaudible].
Amy: That’s so fascinating. Wow. I love it. This was so helpful. And hopefully all of our listeners, hopefully you’ve found something that you could try with your kids for working with self-soothing and just have some ideas for your calm down corner the next time things are getting a little stressful. And just maybe a little high stimulation, you can just try something to kind of help kids self-soothe and bring it back down.
And I love teaching them these tips too, so that they can kind of notice it themselves eventually and be able to kind of know their things that they do. And I think that’s such an important part of helping children self-regulate is giving them tools in their toolbox and helping them identify, when I feel this way, here’s three things I can do that help me to calm myself and I love that. So, Jeana, tell us before we go about Sammy and about what you do so that I can send our listeners over to check you out and the things that you’re doing.
Jeana: So Sammy The Golden Dog is a book series that I wrote. And Soothing Sammy was the first one. It actually teaches children how to create their own calm down corner. They put a positive spin on it and they use something from all of those different sensory areas in their box so they can go choose which one at that time is going to help them. So not all of those things they need to use at once. But they can know in their body what do they need to do to calm down right now at this moment.
So that is a really sweet story about kids that go visit a dog named Sammy and Sammy lives in this house and he lets all these kids borrow something different that makes the sensory system, so they can calm down. And he walks them through problem solving and then back into kind entering play again [inaudible]. And again this book, it teaches you how to make your own Sammy house so your own kids can build their own Sammy house and put the plush Sammy dog in it and they can go visit it when they feel upset.
Lots of preschools are using this right now, which is really fun. They have a Sammy corner in their calm down area. So they just say, “Do you need Sammy time?” And the kids say, “Yes, I do.” And then they go and they know what to do because they read the story and they did the practice curriculums that goes along with it. So yeah, it’s really a lot of fun.
Amy: I love that. And one of the things I love about it too, that just came to me while you were talking about it is, we talked about these seven different things and in your Sammy corner, you have seven different options, something for each of those sensory inputs. And what’s fantastic about that is it gives them choices. And I feel like every time you have choice, you feel like you have some sense of control. And I think sometimes when we’re feeling overstimulated we feel like we’re out of control and so having something you control. So I love that element of it too.
Jeana: Yeah, I work with kids with special needs and also typically developing kids in an inclusion preschool classroom. And so it is really important for me that there’s a lot of visuals and that there’s a lot of opportunities for kids to engage in these calm down situations in different ways. It makes them feel like they’re important and they have self-control and that they are able to be independent from the adults so that they don’t need us 100% of the time.
They can go with some visual cues and some of those tactile experiences to calm down and then come to us when they’re ready to talk it through and then problem solve to figure out what exactly was triggering for them. So yeah, so that’s how Soothing Sammy came about.
Amy: That’s amazing. Can they find that on Amazon as well as your website?
Jeana: They can find the book on Amazon, the whole program is on my website. So yeah, if they wanted the book only they can get it on Amazon.
Amy: Or go to your website?
Jeana: Yeah, [inaudible], yeah.
Amy: And the dog is cute. The dog is so cute.
Jeana: The dog is cute. [inaudible]. But yeah, there’s five other books that all teach something really exciting.
Amy: That’s amazing. Well, we will include links to that in our show notes so that people can go on and check that out and check out the cute Sammy dog and learn about setting up their own Sammy corner because it’s amazing. Thank you so much for coming on and chatting with us today. I think this is fascinating and I’m excited to kind of think through this. My kids are getting a little bit older, but as you said, this works for all of us. And so I’m thinking I have teenagers and I have me and I have some elementary kids.
Jeana: Yeah, [crosstalk] and you know you can make a calm down corner. I always tell parents, “Have a calm down box for you because if you need to take a break, that’s okay.” And you need to have your own calm down stuff that you really love, that meets all the senses that you want, so the scented lotion, a piece of gum. If it’s instant coffee and a [inaudible], whatever it is, sometimes you need to take a break, [crosstalk] you can kind of walk back into the craziness of whatever is going on so it’s good for everybody.
Amy: So good. I’ve got my big fuzzy blanket that’s my special blanket. And it’s a little bit off limits unless you get the special permission from mom. This is mom’s only thing that’s mom’s. Yeah. I do share if you come snuggle with me, then we can all share but don’t take it out of my room. That’s so funny. Yeah, I love it so much. Thank you so much for coming on. And we will send people over to come visit you and find out more about Sammy as well.
Jeana: Thanks for having me on.
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Thank you for hanging out with me today for this fun chat on Raising Healthy Kid Brains. If you want to see more of what we’re doing to support kiddos and their amazing brains, come visit us on our website planningplaytime.com. See you next week.