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How to build and use a self-soothe box in your space.

Teenager sitting on steps with her head in her hands.

How many of us know what we need when things get hard? If you’re feeling stressed and anxious, do you know what you need in order to relieve the pressure and stay steady? Sometimes we do these things subconsciously because we know what works for us. For some it might be stepping outside and getting some fresh air. For others it’s reading a book, journaling, or making a hot drink.

When working with young people, particularly in group settings, it’s not always possible to be available for each individual at the time they need help, and in some cases, our presence may not be the thing they need.

A table with arts and craft items scattered over it. Children in the background, slightly blurred.

Young people who are feeling upset, anxious or are experiencing any kind of emotional upset, can benefit from having access to a “self-soothe” box.

A self-soothe box is filled with things that can help to calm and regulate emotions. The items are focused around sensory experiences that can ground and provide a distraction.

Ideally a self-soothe box would be personalised to the individual who will use it, but it is also possible to create one that can be accessed by a group of young people. They can even be involved in creating the box!

It is also important to note, a self-soothe box does NOT have to be filled with expensive items. The main thing to consider when creating the box is knowing your young people and what they need in times of emotional dysregulation.


Here are some of our top tips for creating your own self-soothe box.

What should it look like?

The simple answer – any way you want!

You might utilise a spare box that has been lying around and ask your young people to decorate it. It doesn’t even have to be a box – it could be a bag, a shelf in in a cupboard…whatever is best for your situation.

What should go in it?

It’s good to have a range of items/activities that engage the different senses. This helps people to be mindful in the moment and can help to ground them amid overwhelming feelings.

Including items to smell, touch, look at, engage with and possibly even taste gives a range of options in any given situation.

Here’s some ideas:

3 pictures overlapped. First is a hand in a bowl of marbles. Second is a layout of sensory toys with the word  friends in the middle. Third is a colouring book and colouring pencils.
  • Fidget toy
  • Playdough or putty
  • Hand lotion
  • Colouring book and pencils
  • Puzzle book
  • Lined paper for journaling
  • Affirmation cards
  • Mints
  • Water
  • Nature sounds or other music to play
  • Rubber band to snap on wrist
  • Feather or soft brush to run along arm
  • Noise cancelling headphones
  • Candle
  • Scented lotion or spray
  • Stress ball

The idea is that all these items are in one place making them easy to access when needed.

In a group setting, young people can be included in deciding what goes in the box and they can be told where to access and how to do this.

Creating self-soothe boxes is all about knowing what it is that will help in times of emotional dysregulation. It might be necessary to have a range of boxes, depending on age and need. Student’s who experience thoughts of self-harm may respond differently than someone who is highly anxious and needing to experience calm.

You can even encourage your students to create their own self-soothe box at home. This encourages them to have insight into their thoughts and behaviours and to see how they can put things in place for themselves that will help them, maybe when there is no one else around. In situations like this it is also beneficial to provide details of where additional help can be sought in a time of crisis.

To get in touch with a member of the Fresh Start in Education team, click here

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