Many kids with ADHD, SPD, Anxiety, and Spectrum Disorders feel things more deeply and more intensely than their peers. Things that other kids may not even notice, these kids not only pick up on, (and frequently misinterpret negatively), but also feel more hurt by. So what other kids can brush off without a second thought, or any intentional effort whatsoever, these kids have to work and work to process, understand, and cope with. So not only do they feel more deeply hurt by “triggers”, they stay upset longer because their brain chemistry makes them less equipped to handle their emotions.
Hence the need in our family for a lot of intentionality when it comes to teaching our kids how to have both 1) emotional awareness and 2) self regulating tools for coping with those emotions.
So though I’d seen these jars before, I decided for purposes of meeting both OUR goals, that we should marry the two concepts of Zones of Regulation (for our emotional awareness goal) and the Calm Down Jars (for our self regulation goals). I loved the results. The glitter swirls and sparkles beautifully, (though the picture doesn’t quite capture the contrasting colors of the swirls very well), and it’s quite mesmerizing to look at, even if you’re not “in the red”.
And it works. Granted, there’s never going to be one tool that always works, every time in every situation. But the more I research these jars, the more I realize that focusing on them results in actual physiological changes in the body: it slows heart rate, steadies breathing, forces muscle relaxation in areas where tension is carried , the adrenaline decreases, and that fight or flight response begins to dissipate. Much like focused breathing while in labor, this actually changes the level of emergent pain in the moment by shifting focus and triggering this domino effect of slowing down the brain and helping the body to realize the emergency isn’t as big as it originally thought. Are there times kids just want to be in their funk for a minute before they are ready to pull out the coping tools? Absolutely. But the more tools we can give our kids to help them regulate, the better, and this one has become a fast favorite.
Here’s how we did it.
- We bought Skinny Girl sparkling waters (84 cents each) because the label is only attached in one tiny strip rather than adhered to the entire bottle, leaving much less of a gluey mess to scrub. (I’m not into scrubbing). We actually loved the taste of the Skinny Girl sparkling water too, an unexpected plus!
- After washing them out, we brought a pot of water to an almost-boil. Once there were just little bubbles on the bottom of the pot, we used a glass Pyrex measuring cup with a lip to scoop water out and carefully pour into the jar until it was about 70% full. (When in doubt. leave a little more room than you think you might need, you can always add more later.) We then added most of a 2.98 oz glitter glue bottle into the water bottle, and a small jar of glitter. We did the zone of regulation colors, Green glitter and glitter glue for calm, Blue for a little frustrated or slightly disappointed, but handling it well and still ok, Yellow for beginning to get upset and starting to lose control, and Red for very angry, mad, and no longer in control of emotions at all and needing to step away / stop.
- You should still have some room at the top for adjustments at this point. Then we put the top on, and with an oven mitt, the kids shook them up really well.
- By this time, the hot water had had enough time to make the adhesive on the label essentially melt, so we were able to easily take of the entire label. (Removing the label before the hot water left a strip of the label visible.) This method was easier, though it was still a little sticky on that small strip.
- We only added food coloring to the yellow. We actually used glow in the dark glitter glue for this one, because I liked the idea of my son being able to seclude himself in a dark quiet place to watch his calm down jar. However, all that was really visible in the dark was a glowy water bottle shape, you couldn’t make out the settling glitter. Still cool, but just not what I expected.
- Finally we added shaped sequins. The kids loved this part, and they loved looking for their 4 hearts, 2 butterflies, whatever. I think this will help focus them further when they are using the calm down jar in a real situation. We put the tops on and shook, the removed the tops to allow the heat to escape and the foam to dissolve. This took a while, so we didn’t sit and watch it, we just came back to it later.
- Once the foam had dissolved, we lined them up by color and added clear elmers glue in increasing amounts to each jar, so that the red was the slowest to settle. (The more glue, the longer it takes.) The idea here was that they would start by identifying the color they’re in (emotional awareness) and shaking that one jar. The calmer they are to start with, the less time they need for their jar to help them regulate. They can also shake them all at the same time, and line them up and watch the different rate they all settle at. Note how much longer it takes for the red to settle compared to the blue (ie the longer you wait to control your emotion, the longer it takes and the harder it is to settle down.) But you could also have your child pick their color (say red), shake & watch that one bottle settle, then move to shake & watch the yellow, and so on until they’re back (emotionally) into the green. This is the method we chose. But you could also do it the other way, so that the green is the longest to settle, and have them shake all the bottles at the same time, then watch them all settle and notice the differences in time. , and by the time the green is settled, they should be calm. Whatever works for your family.
- We glued the tops on, and my kids now keep asking me, “Mommy, make me angry, so I can use the jars.” They love them.