In the past couple of years, the team of amazing teachers in our classroom for students with emotional disturbances has developed a technique that has been really helpful (and super simple to implement).
They began using basic fine motor tasks as Reset Activities to help students regain their composure after tantrums or behavioral outbursts and to prepare them to return to the group.
Because we’re buddies (and because I happen to have an entire treasure trove of fine motor activities at my disposal), from time to time, these wonderful teachers would ask me to weigh in on which tasks would make good Reset Activities for the kids in their classroom.
I watched this strategy work time and time again, helping to calm kids down after meltdowns simply by giving them something constructive and soothing to do with their hands. And (bonus!) I got to sneak some fine motor coordination and hand strengthening work into the classroom too! Go team!
Why Reset Activities Work
Reset activities allow the child to be successful, independent, and calm. They are not overly challenging or overly exciting – the perfect way to reset after a tantrum.
Completing familiar, repetitive motor tasks can be a very calming experience for many kids. It’s why we buy those fancy grownup coloring books. It’s why people look so calm and relaxed when they’re knitting or playing solitaire with playing cards, or weeding their garden.
By following a direction and calmly completing a structured task, the child is communicates and proves to the teacher that he is ready to return to the group.
Side note – these activities can be used in any classroom by any teacher and they are also really effective when used at home too!
How to Use Reset Activities After a Tantrum or Meltdown
Typically, the students in this particular classroom have such aggressive and sometimes dangerous behaviors that they are unable to remain with their group during tantrums or meltdowns. Instead, one of the teachers helps the student to a quiet enclosed area of the classroom where they can implement calming sensory strategies and help the student deescalate.
Reset Activities are introduced when the child has already calmed down after a tantrum or outburst.
Here are some basic guidelines for choosing and using Reset Activities to help kids with challenging behaviors:
1 || Know when to use them.
Reset Activities are not used during the actual outburst, but are introduced after the child has already calmed down to help bridge the gap between the outburst and returning to the group.
In this particular classroom, the child completes the activity at his or her desk and then can return to the group work area or circle time area when he is finished.
For some kids, the teacher would also follow the activity with a verbal or visual reminder of the expectations when they return to the group
2 || Reset Activities should be short and sweet.
We’re talking really short. The activity should only take a minute or two to complete. Nothing too involved.
2 || Choose activities that are easy for the child to complete successfully and independently.
As the adult overseeing the activity, you shouldn’t have to engage with the child at all other than to present the activity.
3 || Choose activities that are relatively neutral in how appealing they are to kids.
This isn’t the time for the most fun, colorful, exciting, and creative fine motor activity you can think of. Save those for your therapy sessions!
Reset activities aren’t meant to be a reward and choosing activities that are very appealing to the child. may inadvertently reinforce negative behaviors.
Keep the activities straightforward and basic. You can rotate between different activities to help keep a baseline level of interest.
4 || Choose tasks with a clear ending.
Rather than setting a timer, or having the child engage in the activity until you tell them to stop, make sure the activity has an obvious point of completion.
It should be very clear and easy for the child to know when he is finished. Completion of the activity is the signal to both the child and the teacher that the child is ready to return to the group.
Reset Activity Ideas
If you’re interested in trying Reset Activities in your classroom or home, here are some examples of fine motor tasks that would work to help kids deescalate after a tantrum:
Fabric Marble Maze (WattsSewinBaby – Etsy)
Pushing Puff Balls Activity (Fun & Engaging Activities for Toddlers)
Sorting and matching work tasks (The Autism Helper)
Bead Drop Fine Motor Jar (Modern Preschool)
Cardboard Beads Threading Activity (The Imagination Tree)
Button Snake (Happy Hooligans)
Paint Sample Puzzles (The Realistic Mama)
Count and Sort Box (The Imagination Tree)
This post about Teaching on a Budget has lots of great ideas! (The Autism Helper)
So what do you think? Would Reset Activities work in your classroom or home? Leave us a comment and let us know if you’ve tried this technique before!
Sign up to receive our newsletter, a roundup of our favorite posts and other great finds from around the web delivered right to your inbox!