Inside: Three quick calming strategies for toddlers 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”, or “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 your child concrete actions to do that can help them work through the emotion — these are foundational emotion regulation tools.
Learning to regulate emotions is a skill your child will slowly acquire over 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 Toddlers 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 that this emotion they feel isn’t going to last forever. Your child also doesn’t know they have the power to change their emotions.
This tip is great when kids are grumpy or grouchy.
How to Do It
First, name the emotion: “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 demonstrate by over-exaggerating a frown and then a smile — make it silly and fun.
Make it a game until your child 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 that 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 can 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 — 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 saying “take a deep breath” won’t work.
When kids are really upset you may need something they can visualize to help them take a deep breath — like imagine that they are blowing buddles or blowing out a birthday candle.
How to Do It
Hold up one finger and say blow out the candle! Once your child does this a few times, make your finger fall down, like it was blown down. You may see a few smiles shine through their tears.
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 anger does the opposite.
Anger is a normal emotion — but children don’t know how to regulate anger. Often children are angry in response to having a goal blocked. Anger can help kids get through obstacles and persevere — but often times, the obstacle is one that can’t or shouldn’t be overcome — like a rule you have in place to keep them safe.
The anger itself isn’t something bad — but your child needs help to manage those big feelings.
How to Do It
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 demonstrate throwing an imaginary ball as hard as you can.
This helps your child 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.
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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