The iPad freezes up again and your sensitive child prone to big feelings is wailing on the floor. Your child is so frustrated and can’t seem to stay calm. You wish you knew how to teach your child to stay calm.
You see your older child starting to turn red when his toddler brother take his toy. Your preschooler is so angry and can’t seem to stay calm.
It’s pouring cats and dogs and your child sobs when he hears the trip to the zoo is canceled. You child is so disappointed and can’t seem to stay calm.
Do any of these scenarios sound like someone you know? All of these negative emotions can be hard for children, and they are even harder for child prone to inflexibility or high-sensitivity.
The good news is learning to stay calm in hard situations with big emotions is a skill your child can learn. You can teach your child how to stay calm.
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Negative Emotions Are Valuable
Your child’s negative emotions have a function: they tell your child’s body that something is wrong. We only call them negative emotions because they are more challenging for everyone but they are not inherently wrong.
It’s important to communicate that your child does not need to avoid the negative emotion. Do not shame a child for having the big feeling. Instead make sure your child knows that there are other ways to react that can make it easier for everyone.
Negative emotions can get in the way of children (and adults!) solving their problems in a proactive and effective way. They can be an obstacle to happiness but they are also a very useful tool in developing powerful self-help skills.
The main purpose for learning to deal with negative emotions is to have skills to work through them and build emotional intelligence and resilience.
When you communicate with your child that their negative emotions are just a challenge to overcome, you can remove the stigma and is the first step in learning to stay calm.
Lead with Empathy
Make sure that you’re frequently having non-judgmental conversations with your children about the situations that are hard for them. You’ll want to start but saying something like “Hey, I noticed you have tough time when your brother steals your toy. What’s going on?”
And make sure you’re listening. Children have a much better idea about why something is hard for them than we give them credit for.
Make sure you are not minimizing the problem when you have a calm conversation by saying, “it’s not that big a deal.” Similarly, avoid telling your child to calm down in the heat of the moment.
Have you ever had a time when you were super upset and someone told you, “You just need to calm down?” It’s so aggravating to have your emotions diminished.
So lead with empathy: “Yeah, I understand it makes you feel so angry when your baby brother takes your toy. I would feel angry, too.”
Calming Strategies are a Tool
Parents and teachers can be quick to jump to calming strategies as a solution for children. But in reality, leading with empathy is the critical first step to helping a child learn to be calm.
Calming strategies are not the solution. Strategies for calming help a child get regulated enough to develop feasible solutions in their problems.
Calming strategies are a tool, not the answer. Unless we genuinely empathize with our children and collaborate with address our children’s concerns, calming strategies are only a band-aid.
Teaching Calming Strategies
Print out our I Can Get Calm calming strategies printable and show it to your child. Visuals and pictures are so powerful for children
Here are the 10 calming strategies I’ve included:
- Count to 10.
- Talk about it.
- Take a deep breath.
- Hug myself.
- Think about my happy spot.
- Listen to music.
- Build with blocks.
- Hum or sing a song.
- Stretch or move my body.
Find a relaxed time to when you can ask your child to help identify the different pictures. Make sure your child and you are both unhurried and have time to talk.
Then ask open-ended questions about the strategies like:
- Which one do you think would be helpful?
- Why do you think we’d use these strategies?
- Is there one we could try now?
Practice Calming Strategies When Calm
This is key: you need to practice the calming strategies when your child is already calm.
I’ve experienced this mom fail a number of times. Saying, “Try to take a deep breath” and teaching your child in the middle of a category 5 meltdown is recipe for disaster.
You have to teach your child the strategy when he or she is calm and practice so they have a remote chance to implement it when they are starting to get frustrated, sad or angry.
Help your child choose one of the strategies to practice and do it often: “Let’s take a coloring break. Let’s count to 10 now. Let’s take four belly breaths.”
Model the Strategies Yourself
When you are frustrated or starting to get angry, narrate it for your child: “There is an unkind driver who cut me off. I’m starting to feel really angry. I’m going to use the calming strategy of count to 10.”
Or when your child has asked for more screen time for the 15th time of the day, explain that you’re feeling frustrated with your child. Say “I’m going to take a break and listen to a song on my Calm app until I feel better. Then we will talk again.”
Try to model the strategies when your child is already calm for best impact.
Using the Calming Strategies with Your Child
Watch for when your child begins to get agitated or just mildly annoyed. Don’t wait for the meltdown to occur.
Say something like “I see you’re feeling really angry that your brother took your toy. We will solve it. Let’s try to Count to 10 so we can have a calm thinking brain.”
Make sure to keep the I Can Get Calm strategies sheet around. When a meltdown approaches, you might not be able to recall all the strategies, so prepare your child and you for success.
You might practice coloring as a calming strategy in your house, but that could be impractical in the car. So make sure to have the printable strategies available in the car, in your purse, and in a few rooms around the house. Laminate and leave outside in your backyard. Wherever meltdowns occur, make sure to have the chart.
You Can Teach Your Child to Stay Calm
Your child can learn to use calming strategies when a big feeling approaches. Staying calm is a tool to hep your child have a solution-oriented brain. Print off our I Can Stay Calm chart and discuss it with your child. Make sure to practice the strategies when your child and you are calm. And enjoy calmer, better days.
Get the I Can Get Calm printable here.