Inside: Three quick calming strategies for kids to help them work through their biggest emotions. These calming techniques lay a foundation for strong emotion-regulation in later life.
When kids have big emotions, we often say “calm-down” without showing them how to do that. Or we say take a deep breath, stop crying, it will be okay.
Whether we mean to or not, when we say those things we are only giving abstract comfort at best and minimizing how they feel at worst.
These three simple calming strategies don’t minimize their feelings but give them a concrete action to do that can help them work through the emotion — a tool.
Learning to regulate their emotions is a skill that they slowly acquire over a fairly long period of time in childhood 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!).
Three Quick Tips to Help Kids Calm Down
1. Teach your child that emotions can change: Turn that frown upside down!
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. Teach your child mindful breathing: Blow out the birthday candle!
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. You know what I mean, that can’t catch a breath sobbing cry that breaks your heart in two. Even if they want to stop crying, they just can’t.
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 breathe 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. Teach your child anger management: Throw away that angry ball!
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.
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.
Here’s a free printable to help you and your child remember the strategies. Click the image to print.
What tricks do you use to help your kids regulate? Comment below! I’m always looking for new ways to help kids calm down!
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