I often have parents ask about ways they can help their child calm down when they have big feelings that are overwhelming. I hear parents say, “I know he is angry or upset, but I can’t help him because he can’t move past his feelings.” We all know we have the right to feel whatever feelings we have, but learning to control those emotions helps us learn ways to handle problems and communicate our thoughts and needs. We know we are better able to think and problem solve when we are calm, not when we are angry or overwhelmed. I listed a few helpful hints that I like to share:
- Find The Calm:
a. Give your child a space to calm down. But make going to the space a positive thing, not a punishment (this is not a Time Out space). Maybe the space is a chair in the living room, a bed, a small nook near the kitchen. The space can be different for all families.
b. The quiet space can have a soft or comforting toy, stress balls, fidget toys, music, white noise, anything that might be comforting.
c. Let your child have a few minutes there to calm down.
2. Practice The Calm
a. I talk about practicing the calm just like we practice basketball lay-ups or baseball pitching. We have to practice lay-ups over and over so we can use those skills in a high-pressure game. Same thing for learning how to calm ourselves down, we need to practice so we can use those skills when the pressure gets high.
b. Calming can be breathing, stretching, going to the Calm Space or any mix of those! I put some resources at the end of this post so you can see what might be helpful for you.
c. We need to practice these strategies when we are calm. We can’t expect to have these calming skills if we only try them in the heat of the moment. We must practice them often when we are calm. Some families practice right at bed time, some practice before they read together, some practice before dinner. Pick a quiet and calm time and add in some breathing or stretching at that time. Not only does this help with learning how to calm, it also helps families build strong relationships – an added bonus!
d. Remember to praise The Calm!
3. Model The Calm
a. I always think that children need to see us as parents and guardians as using The Calm when we get upset. The more we model it, the better. I call it overt modeling. Make sure to show your child how you calm yourself down when you are upset. Talk about how you need to do that too!
b. If you really want to make sure to model how to calm, then think up an issue and talk through it. Here is an example. “I burnt the meatloaf! I can’t believe it. I need to calm down, I am angry at myself! I think I will take a minute and sit down on the couch, it is my calm space. I need to breathe slowly too. I am going to breathe into the count of 4 and out to the count of 4 a few times. Now I feel a lot better. I need to solve this problem and think. Hmmm I know, we can use gravy and ketchup and it will taste just fine! I am glad I calmed down because then I solved the problem.”
Emotions are wonderful because they help us enjoy experiences, know when something is wrong, or connect with others. But when emotions overwhelm us, they take away our ability to think and problem solve. Learning how to calm helps us think of ideas and solutions to solve problems and to communicate to express our needs in a thoughtful way.
Belknap, M. (2006). Stress relief for kids: Taming your dragons. Duluth, MN.: Whole Person Associates.
Shapiro, L. E. & Spague, R. K. (2009). The relaxation & stress reduction workbook for kids: Help for children to cope with stress, anxiety & transitions. Oakland, CA: Instant Help Books, Harbinger Publishers, Inc.