Offer Calm Moments

Offer Calm Moments

Help Students Manage Stress

All children and youth experience stress to varying degrees as a result of situational challenges (e.g. taking a test, entering a noisy environment, being teased, completing a difficult assignment, etc.). Situations that may seem manageable for an adult can be stressful for a young person depending on their developmental and emotional skills and abilities. Feeling stressed and anxious can negatively impact student learning (e.g. difficulty concentrating) and everyday functioning (sleeping, eating, and socializing). Chronic and intense stress may lead to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

Learning how to cope with stressful situations and everyday challenges is an important life skill for all children and youth. Relaxation, yoga and mindfulness approaches are found to be promising practices in school settings for improving coping abilities and reducing anxiety.1,2,3 Such practices help students 'step back' from stressful situations by teaching them how to purposefully and non-judgmentally 'be in the moment'.4 Kabat-Zinn (2003) suggests that mindfulness helps calm and clear the mind and help focus attention.5 Embedding relaxation strategies may also reduce noise levels and increase concentration.6

Consider embedding whole-class and/or whole school mindfulness strategies during transitions or before tests. These activities can be as short as 1-2 minutes or as long as 5-10 minutes. Important calming strategies include: deep breathing, yoga, short meditations, sensory strategies, creative arts activities, and time spent in green spaces.

Simple suggestions and user-friendly resources:

  • Deep breathing – Have students take 3-5 deep belly breathes. Most instructions call for taking a slow breath in for about 4 seconds, holding the breath for 1-2 seconds, exhaling slowly through the mouth for 4-5 seconds, waiting 2-3 seconds and then, repeating several times. Consider using visualizations such as 'The six sides of breathing' and 'lazy 8 breathing' from the Zones of Regulation (Kuypers, 2011, p. 118-119).
  • Yoga – Have students stop and do a yoga pose. Suggested program: Yoga4classrooms Card Deck and training programs (
  • Life Skills4Kids: Relaxation Skills4Kids eBook. This includes a variety of calming strategies including deep breathing, sensory strategies (deep pressure), and progressive muscle relaxation. Retrieve from
  • Calm Classroom program. Thirty second to 3 minute strategies are used during normal school transitions to help students develop self-awareness, mental focus, and inner calm. Since 2008, this research-based curriculum has been implemented extensively throughout Chicago Public Schools. Learn about this program at
  • Deep pressure (weighted lap pad, hand massage or self-hug) and other sensory strategies may be calming. See The Kid's Guide to Staying Awesome and in Control: Simple Stuff to Help Children Regulate Their Emotions and Senses (Brukner, 2014).
  • Consider using The Drive Thru Menus for Relaxation and Stress Busters Posters (Teri Bowen-Irish, OTR/L) in your classroom with elementary school students. Each poster consists of a menu of 10 short exercises that can be embedded throughout the day. A Leader's Manual provides complete instructions for implementing each activity. Available for purchase from Therapro (

1 Bazyk, S., & Arbesman, M. (2013). Occupational therapy practice guidelines for mental health promotion, prevention and intervention with children and youth. AOTA Press.
2 Zoogman, S., Goldberg, S. B., Hoyt, W. T., & Miller, L. (2014). Mindfulness interventions with youth: A meta-analysis. Mindfulness. doi: 10.1007/s12671-013-0260-4
3 Wall, R. B. (2005). Tai chi and mindfulness-based stress reduction in a Boston public middle school. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 19(4), 230-237.
4 Rempel, K. D. (2012). Mindfulness for children and youth: A review of 
the literature with an argument for school-based implementation. Canadian Journal of Counseling and Psychotherapy, 46(3), 201-220.
5 Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144–156. doi:10.1093/clipsy/bpg016
6 Norlander, T., Moas, L., & Archer, T. (2005). Noise and stress in primary and secondary school children: Noise reduction and increased concentration ability through a short but regular exercise and relaxation program. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 16(1), 91-99.