20 In All About Children's Emotions/ Emotions/ Parenting Solutions

Three Quick Tips to Help Kids Calm Down

Help Kids Calm Down

When kids have big emotions, we often say “calm-down” without showing them how to do that.

We must also give our kids tools that will help them work through these big emotions.

Learning to regulate their emotions is a skill that they slowly acquire over a fairly long period of time and is tied to the underlying development of the brain.

Five-year-olds are much better than two years olds in regulating emotions, but even older kids need strategies to help them (and we as adults do too!).

Help Kids Calm Down

Here are my three quick tips to help in those moments when emotions overwhelm kids. For more on teaching kids self-regulation check out my post on The Most Important Skill to Teach Children. 

Three Quick Tips to Help Kids Calm Down

1. Turn that Frown Upside Down! (Teach your child that emotions can change).

Young children think about things as being fixed and unchangeable, and they view emotions this way too. They don’t realize or sometimes don’t remember that how they feel isn’t going to last forever. They also need reminders that they can control their emotions.

When my son is grumpy or grouchy I always use this trick.

First, I name the emotion. I say: “You seem grumpy today. Do you remember you can turn that frown upside down? You can change that grumpy face into a happy face?” Then I demonstrate by over exaggerating a frown and then a smile.

We make it a game until and he is turning that frown upside down! I follow up by saying — “You did it! You turned your frown upside down! You changed how you felt inside. Do you feel better? Now let’s have a wonderful day!”

There is actually quite a bit of research which shows that forcing a smile makes you feel happier and can even reduce stress.

2. Blow out the birthday candle! (Teach your child mindful breathing).

Sometimes emotions get really out of control and in the midst of crying or having a tantrum, you can see your child really can’t calm down. My son has even said before “I can’t stop crying!”

In these situations, the best thing you can do is to get your child to breathe. But when they are really upset sometimes saying “take a deep breath” isn’t enough. Breathing with them can help, especially if you practice breathing at other times. For example, one bedtime song I sing is a “relaxing song” and part of it is to take 3 deep breaths. I put my hand on his stomach and teach him to breath into his tummy so my hand goes up and down.

When kids are really upset you may need something more concrete that they can imagine to get them to breath. I’ve seen different techniques like imagine you are blowing bubbles or blowing out the birthday candle. The candle has worked best for us.

I hold up one finger and I say blow out the candle! Once he does a few times I make my finger “fall down” and a few laughs shine through the tears. Once they are calm you can begin to work through the feelings. Breathing helps to reverse the stress response that comes with big emotions allowing children to be calm again.

Alternatives to blowing out the birthday candle: pretend you are blowing bubbles, pretend you are blowing a dandelion, breathe like a dragon, or blow on a pinwheel.

3. Throw away that angry ball! (Teach your child anger management)

Anger and frustration can be really useful emotions in the right amount. Frustration can help kids stay on task until it is done and increase determination. But too much frustration and anger does the opposite.

Most often kids are angry because their goal is somehow blocked. That Lego piece doesn’t do what they want it to do, they can’t do what they want to do because you said no (and probably for good reason) or some other obstacle. You don’t want to view anger and frustration as negative because they can be good in the right amounts.

First, name the emotion. “You seem angry/frustrated. Is it because you can’t _______? I see a big angry ball in you! It’s too much anger! Let’s throw some of it away!” Then I demonstrate throwing an imaginary ball as hard as I can.

This helps them release a little bit of that anger by pretend throwing. Once they have done the throwing as hard as they can they usually feel a little bit better. But I don’t want them to lose the determination. So if it is something that they can do I will encourage them to try again.

For more on helping kids manage anger see: Teach Your Child to Manage Anger

Those are my three quick tips for helping kids to calm down and regulate emotions. Once your child is calm again be sure to talk with them about the emotion they were feeling. Name the emotion and help them to understand why they felt that way. Then talk about what they might try next time or use it as an opportunity to understand your child better and what their triggers might be.

Remember emotions aren’t bad, we don’t want to get rid of emotions, we want to regulate them. Emotions are raw energy. We have to teach our children how to harness that energy so that they can be persistent, motivated and reach their goals.

Here’s a free printable to help you and your child remember the strategies. Click the image to print.

How to help kids calm down

What tricks do you use to help your kids regulate? Comment below! I’m always looking for new ways to help kids calm down!

Did you like this post? You may also like:

My Favorite Games to Foster Self-Regulation

Why Challenge is Important for Children’s Emotional Intelligence

A Playful Strategy to Help Your Spirited Child Calm Down

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  • Nicole Schwarz
    May 19, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    As always, I love your posts! My girls love to pretend that they are holding a cup of hot cocoa, then then take a deep breath in to “smell” the cocoa, and then a deep breath out to “cool it off.”

    • Ashley Soderlund Ph.D.
      May 20, 2015 at 9:01 am

      Oh that’s a good one! The angry ball is new at our house and it’s working really well right now.

  • The Fairy & The Frog (@frog_fairy)
    May 24, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    Great tips – think I’m going to try the ‘angry ball’ one

    • Ashley Soderlund Ph.D.
      May 26, 2015 at 3:36 pm

      Thank you! I hope it works for you. It has really worked for us– it’s a way to break the tension and give them a chance to regulate.

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    […] DIY Scented Tealight Candles By: Powerful Mothering             Three Quick Tips to Help Kids Calm Down By: Nurture and Thrive             10 Lemonade Stand Ideas Your […]

  • Natasha Daniels
    May 27, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    Great simple suggestions that work! I like the angry ball. I haven’t tried that with my children. I am sure I will have an opportunity soon 🙂

  • Hendrika
    July 24, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    I actually have a question…
    My 20 month old has started throwing terrible tantrums about 2 weeks ago. And its getting worse.
    The advice I was given by the Docter where the first tantrum took place, was to ignore him and not give him a hug until a couple of minutes after he had calmed down. This goes against what I believe, I feel that you need to help him understand the emosions he is feeling and help him to deal with it.
    However, he has now started sticking his hands in his mouth to throw-up when he is angry.
    I honeslty am at a loss. Do I start ignoring my baby boy?

    • Ashley Soderlund Ph.D.
      July 24, 2015 at 7:00 pm

      Hello Hendrika,

      I’m glad you asked this question. It’s always hard to answer when I don’t know the context and haven’t observed the situation with my own eyes, but I’ll give you my gut feel based on what you wrote. First of all, I’m sorry you feel like you are at a loss– but know that we all feel like that sometimes. We don’t always know what to do and sometimes we have to try different scenarios to see what works. So here is the thing, it sounds like your toddler is doing whatever he can to get your attention. I would give him attention– positive attention, like this: When he starts to get upset, recognize it: “You feel mad.” Then try to identify the cause of his anger “you’re mad because you can’t…” Tell him you understand and that it’s ok to feel mad, but set limits. It’s ok to feel mad, but it’s not ok to throw or hit. Offer him a hug, “I’m sorry you feel mad, would you like a hug?” At this point you can try two things, you can try holding him until he calms down or you can say I want to help you calm down, but if you need to scream I’m going to leave the room for awhile. But when he does calm down reassure him. Ultimately you want to give him other options besides the tantrum, using his words, throwing the angry “ball” etc. But first he has to know that it’s ok to feel angry. At 20 months he has no idea how to express his anger. And anger is a valid emotion. If you accept his anger and offer him comfort over time you will see that his tantrums are not as intense or long– and when they get to that point you can start teaching him other ways to handle his anger. But he has to first know that he can always come to you whatever he is feeling. I recommend his book on tamtrums http://www.amazon.com/Taming-Childs-Tantrums-Harvard-Medical-ebook/dp/B00AQ24XMI.

      • Hendrika
        July 25, 2015 at 8:09 pm

        Thank you Ashley.
        I appreciate the feedback and I’m happy to say this sounds like advice that I will definitely try.

        Again thank you 🙂

        • Ashley Soderlund Ph.D.
          August 2, 2015 at 10:02 am

          You’re welcome!

        • jenni ho-huan
          February 15, 2016 at 8:36 pm

          how did it go Hendrika? We seem to be seeing a rising incidence of anger among children these days. I have a very angry child too. It’s such a wild emotion it overwhelms them. it was hard but i realised he needed me to be strong and help me feel anchored and stable. he still gets angry easier than most but is also able to calm down faster and laugh at himself! Love wins!

  • Julie
    August 12, 2015 at 2:02 am

    Great article – thanks for sharing! I especially love the bit about blowing out a candle – I too have been told ‘I can’t stop crying!”

  • jenni ho-huan
    February 15, 2016 at 8:38 pm

    i just found this excellent blog! i have written a little book Simple Tips for Happy Kids – because i think happiness is a birthright for children but as adults we have lost touch with it. In fact, our kids help us re-find joy if we let them! I will be sharing the precious nuggets i find here and directing my readers here! Keep it up!

  • Neha Singhal
    August 31, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Hi Ashley,
    my 4 year old girl gets irritated over very small things..she does not want that we praise or appreciate other kids..she irritates even if we talk to any child…she is also very attached to her grandmother and never let us talk to her when she is home or over call. my daughters screams and shouts that don’t talk to my grandmother,only i will talk to them and shouts loudly and cry ,until we convince her that we won’t talk to her grand mother.please help me with ur suggestions.

  • Neha Singhal
    September 2, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    Thanks Ashley,

    i am trying playing this game…i appreciate that u replied that too with a good game idea.
    i will share the feedback after few days..

    Thank you very much.

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