Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I Can Calm Myself ABC Cards

One of our current goals for Luke is to help him find and maintain a sense of calm.  We’ve tried a number of strategies with him and are still working to discern what works best for him (and for the rest of the family!). 

To help us glean new ideas and procedures, I suggested to Dannette from S-O-S Research that the Best of the Best (BoB) Edition 10 could be about how to help special needs kids to calm down and/or refocus after a melt down or stressful event. She kindly accepted my proposal.  Thus, I am now looking forward to the latest edition of B-O-B going live on September 15, so I can browse the links there in order to learn about others’ thoughts, opinions, strategies and research about calming strategies for special kids, and, by default, their siblings, too.  (Because, truth be told, as Nina has modeled her behavior after Luke’s, I almost find her copycat meltdowns harder to take than Luke’s sensory-induced ones!).  Perhaps someone else’s original idea or practical twist on tried-and-true calming method will be just what our family needs.

Needs and Interests

In thinking about BOB Edition 10, I have been busy reflecting on our children’s needs and interests and how I might create a tool which could help them with some of our current goals while, hopefully, helping others, too.  Things I have been considering are:

  • Luke does okay sometimes when Mommy or Daddy help him calm down through redirection, holding, deep pressure, etc., but he has yet to find strategies that he can effectively use on his own.  As someone inspired by Montessori, I am especially interested in promoting such strategies since they, in turn, facilitate an “I can do it myself” attitude.  We seek to empower our children with the ability to self-soothe.
  • Nina is still not making connections with letter recognition and sounds.  This does not worry me yet, since she is only four, but it does tell me I need to focus on providing even more opportunities for Nina to explore early literacy.
  • Both Luke and Nina thrive with visual cues.  They not only enjoy making visual schedules, charts and materials with me, but they also tend to respond better to such things than they do verbal cues.  I also like how visual tools help my pre- and early-reading children with personal accountability.
  • Luke, by nature, seeks control.  Nina, by nature or nurture – we are not sure – loves choice.  Whenever we can build opportunities for the children to exercise their freedoms to direct and select (within limits) into our days, the better.
  • Luke and Nina both enjoy playing and working with cards.  During learning time, play time and other times, we find that adding decks or rings of relevant cards makes the atmosphere of our home more positive.  The kids just love them!
  • Unrelated to our children, but bearing the interests of others in mind, I have noticed that the post I wrote where I shared the Alerting Activity ABC Cards that I made when we first began our SPD journey is consistently one of the most popular posts ever on this blog.  It seems others are seeking easy-to-use, kid-friendly tools for dealing with sensory issues in young children.  

Momma’s Latest Project: I Can Calm Myself ABC Cards

Synthesizing all of my thoughts, I decided to borrow every moment I could over the past few days to create a new deck of cards for both my kids and those who share our journey here at Training Happy Hearts.  The goal of these cards is four-fold:

  1. to offer young children a menu of ideas they can use to self-soothe.  (Thus, you won’t find any strategies among those pictured on the cards that require a second person, say, to apply deep pressure or to play on a see-saw together.)
  2. to provide further opportunities for letter recognition and phonics work through play.  (Admittedly, some of the cards do not follow basics phonics rules.  For example, the had sound for “k” as in “kick” is not used on the “k” card, but rather the silent sound, as in “knead”.)  Since phonics work is a secondary goal for the cards, I opted to overlook this detail at times and I hope you can, too.  Besides, it can provide an opportunity for teaching children about lesser-known phonics patterns and exceptions if you’re really gung-ho.)
  3. to give back to the community of fellow special needs and young children’s parents, educators and specialists I have met online.  I truly hope you find these cards useful.
  4. to afford opportunities for choice.  Just as every child is unique, the activities that work to help calm one may not work for another.  Some activities, particularly heavy work ones, can be both calming or alerting depending not only on the child, but on the state a child is in at a given moment.  Likewise, some children find more comfort in tactile strategies, say, than oral-motor ones, while others may like auditory ones.  Thus, I opted to make more than 26 cards in order to include some extra possible calming solutions.  That way, both kids and the adults in their lives can pick and choose as desired.

Also, since the cards are meant to be for calming, I opted to use gray, instead of black for the letters and to use more pastel/muted tones for the color-coded letters.  I have not had time to test if these color choices work yet, or just make the cards more difficult for children to read, so please offer feedback if you choose to print out and use the cards.  I always appreciate comments and, if you can think of ways to make the cards a more effective tool – through color choices, added activities, reworded descriptions, etc, I would be grateful to hear your ideas and to update the cards accordingly as I have time.

Prepping I Can Calm Myself ABC Cards

To Prep the Cards simply click on the thumbnails of the cards throughout this post.  When you do, larger, printable versions should pop up.  (Since I still have not dedicated time to figure out how to share documents through any of the free online sharing sites that exist, and have not played around enough with a free PDF file maker I found, I simply uploaded the cards as images.)    Should the way I have shared the cards not work for you, simply leave a comment and your email address and I will get a copy out to you that way.  (And, if you have a favorite free site for sharing files, do clue me in with a comment!)

Of course, please aware that in the set of cards, there are relatively quick and easy activities kids can select to calm themselves based on their seven senses: Hearing, Gustatory/Oral Motor, Smelling, Proprioception, Pressure/Touch, Vestibular/Space/Balance and Visual.  On their own, with just their bodies and some typical items found at home (or prepared ahead of time if at school, camp or other locations), children can use the cards to self-soothe.  Before playing, in deference to your child's individual needs and abilities, as well as to what supplies you may or may not have on hand (think vanilla votive candles at home or a bathtub at school) take a quick flip through the deck to pull out any that might not work for your child.

Basic Play

Once the deck is ready, train your child in self-soothing activities through playing a simple game:  When your child is already calm, have your child select a random card and follow the choice on it.  Then, select another one and do the same.  If you wish, add some extra fun by choosing only cards with letters of the same color.  (The letters on the cards are color-coded by sense) Or, select cards that spell names of people you know or favorite things.  The idea is to play often – for short or long durations depending on your child’s interest – in order to help your child recognize the many ways one can independently calm and organize oneself.  That way, when your child has a moment when calming down is necessary, a myriad of strategies may come to mind.


In order to keep exposure to the calming strategies on the cards fresh and fun, you may want to try the following variations of play:

Role-Reversal Role Playing:  Tell your child that you are the Child and your child is the Parent.  Child describes an event that may be overwhelming or stressful and then asks Parent for help calming down.  Parent flips through the cards and selects a depicted activity that might be an appropriate technique for calming down given the situation Child described.  Parent says, “You can help yourself.  Try this.”  For example, Child says, “It is loud in hear.  I feel antsy.  Something smells funny.  I can’t calm down.  Help me.”  Parent flips through cards and finds the “Q” card.  Parent says, “You can calm yourself.  Try going to your quiet corner.”

Name the Situation:  Draw a card.  Look at the choice depicted on it.  Then, try to name a situation when the idea might be appropriate.  For example, if the child drew the “Rr - I can go for a run card,”  the child might suggest, “I just got home from a noisy party and I feel like I have way too much energy still.”  Or, “I feel angry because my sister broke my toy.”

Or, you could use any of the games described in my Alerting Activity ABC Cards post, which include a Board Game, Spelling Snake, Pick a Letter, Any Letter, What letter Is It?, Can You Think Of...? and Three-Part Cards.  With any of these games, you will likely wish to allow children to mime, instead of completing, choices depicted as some choices may be difficult to actually do while playing the game (such as taking a bath or playing in the yard).  Also, bear in mind that boisterous competitive play often defeats the purpose of practicing calming activities and techniques. Thus, it might behoove everyone to tweak all the game variations described to be cooperative ones.  For example, consider it a "win for all" once all of the letters have been identified and all choices mimed or completed.

Of course, there are many other ways your could use the cards.  I know I will likely discover more as I put them into play with my children.  

A Work in Progress

Just like our family's efforts to train our children to self-soothe are a work in progress, so are these cards.  They have been created in between moments of homekeeping, homeschooling, therapies, soothing my youngest's croup through the night, etc.  And, they are made by me (a parent not a professional therapist).  So, there is bound to be room for improvement with the cards.  

With this in mind, I sincerely ask you to do me the courtesy of stopping by here to leave a comment after you have looked the cards over or put them into play.  Let me know what worked with them for your child, what did not, what you would like to see included in them, deleted from them, changed about them.  Share the ways you used them.  Offer an idea for a new way to play.  Truly, your constructive criticism, as well as kudos, on this tool that I have created for my children and am sharing for you to use with yours is not only welcome, but requested.

This post has been written as a part of S-O-S Best of the Best (BoB), Edition 10: Therapy, live on the 15th, and is also being shared at We Are THAT Family's Works for Me Wednesday because the cards are working for us so far, so good.


Danette said...

Wow, Martianne. What an incredible amount of work you've put into this idea and creating these unique cards. I will have to spend more time reading over them, but thank you for your contribution!

The Sunshine Crew said...

Excellent idea! Thanks for sharing!
:) Colleen

Cheryl Ann said...

I have three children with sensory issues. The 10 and 8 year old have Tourette Syndrome, OCD, Anxiety, and AD/HD. My two year old has tactile defensiveness and sensory issues. I am on a steep learning curve right now trying to find ways to help them. Soon they will all be seeing an OT. I am so grateful to see these cards. Even my husband will benefit with his sensory issues. I will be printing and laminating them! Thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

Hello Martianne

They look great! Thank you for sharing! How do you do to be able to share in your blog? I have things to share but I don't know how to. It is cool that you can see the pictures of what you are sharing and when you click it opens in a big page. I hope you don't mind sharing that with me.

Kind regards,


Martianne said...

Danette, Colleen, Cheryl ad Monica- Glad you like the cards and pray you and others find them useful. Would love feedback once you put them to use.

Martianne said...


I use publisher to make the cards and then save the pages as GIF using "save as". Then, I upload them as pictures "from file". That's it. Perhaps someone else will have a better way to do it that they can comment on here to teach us all! :)


kate said...

can you please send these to my email? i cannot figure out how to get them to look how they should.


Monica Utsey said...

What a great idea. I would love to have a copy to use with my son. Behavior modification is one of our homeschool goals for the year. My e-mail: motherjegna@msn.com

Anonymous said...

I would love to get a copy sent to my email too if possible. Only if you have the time. My email is jilleen@jilleen.com. Thanks, Jilleen

Anonymous said...

I have not learned how to use it yet, but perhaps http://pinterest.com/ might work in sharing your ideas. Or what about google docs.

Anonymous said...


These cards are wonderful and I can see how they will be a blessing to my family. My 7 year old SPD son has difficulty regulating his ups and downs and it affects the whole family. We walk on egg shells sometimes not knowing what will set him off and how he will react. We lovingly try to direct him, but as you know, it can be a hit or miss. I believe these cards will help bring peace to our home and give my youngest the control that he seeks in how to handle himself. Thank you so much for sharing these with our group! May God bless you and your family for your kindness.

I tried to print them, but I couldn't figure out how to print just the cards and not the whole page. Could you please email me a copy?


Yuji said...

Hi Martianne,

You have come up with a great idea! I love the concept, and you've thought out the details of how to implement it as well. My son loves letters, so I can't wait to try this with him. Thanks!

danielle @ RLR said...



Heidi said...

These are amazing! My 5yo in on the Autism Spectrm and this is definitely something we are working on with him right now! We had to stop homeschooling him and put him in school this year because of the negative effect his continual out bursts were having on our entire family. Anything that might help get him home is treasured beyond belief!! Thank you!!

(Oh and you can save the cards as PDF's and then upload them to Google Docs to share :) ) Otherwise if not I would really love for you to email me a copy.





Anonymous said...

These are absolutely amazing! There is an easy way to print them out, by the way: just right click on the image and select open in new tab. Once the cards are open in the new tab, just go to file in the upper left hand of your toolbar and select print. I am going to laminate them so we can take them with us wherever we go! Thank you!


Jane Ellen said...

I'm so excited to try this with my son! Thank you. Can you email them to me.

Again, thank you for sharing your hard work.

Tee said...

This is incredible! Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing. I have a foster son who could really use these. Can you e-mail them to fosteringthrifty@gmail.com? I will also link to this post from an upcoming post on my blog Fostering Thrifty Families because this is right up a lot of our readers' alleys. Keep up the awesome work.

Alicia said...

These are fantastic. My children do not have any "special needs," but I think all children could benefit from these. I am always trying to think of ways to help them calm down. I would truly appreciate it if you could send a copy to alicia.stoft@alumni.duke.edu as I cannot figure out how to print them. Thanks!!!

Unknown said...

I'm not getting these to print properly, would you mind sending both these and the Alerting ABC cards to lareehsATgmailDOTcom when you have time? Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

I love these cards, but am unable to print because it gets blurry when I enlarge. Please email me in a different context if possible.
Kerri Miller


http://mylittlehappies.blogspot.com said...

Thank you so much for sharing these! I just created a peace corner for my son and daughter and these cards are such a great idea to add to this! I appreciate the inspiration and will give you the credit on my blog when I show our new corner. Pls stop by if you have a chance and thanks again!

Raquel said...

Hi Martianne:
I've just found your blog and I LOVE it!!!!
What a great idea. I would love to have a copy to use with my daugter. My e-mail: gomezrujanor@gmail.com
THANKS for sharing!

Martianne said...


Infortuanely, I had another comptuer failure recently and do not have access to any of my old files yet. I am not sure when I will. In the meantime, if you click one each picture on the email above, you should get a larger version to print.

When I am able to access my old files, I will put a new link up here with a printable of them all together.


Kara said...

Thank you so much for sharing such a great tool. When I stumbled upon your site while looking for ideas to help my four year old son deal with his meltdowns and sensory issues, I was so excited to see something like this. It is exactly what we need!

I tried to print the I Can Calm Myself ABC cards, however, was unable to print them. Would it be possible for you to email me an attachment of them? It would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much! My email is lilpeanutshoppe@sbcglobal.net

Anonymous said...

I love these cards. Is there any chance you could email them to me as an attachment. I was not able to print.



Anabel Cornago said...

Thanks :)

christi engels said...

this is amazing work! i love this idea but i've been unable to print these (or the alert cards). would you do me the blessing of sending it to me, please? :)
thanks so very much! i'm only more hopeful of the ways that this can help my 7 year old Aspergers daughter.


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