If you’ve been a parent for longer than a week, you already know that helping your child calm down is a regular part of parenting. Getting upset is a normal way for your child to express themselves, when there’s something they need or want that they don’t know how to get on their own.
When you’re child is a baby, helping them calm down is, comparatively, easy. It’s predictable. There are a limited number of things that could be upsetting your baby. They’re hungry, they’re tired, they want to be held, they have a dirty diaper, or they’re annoyed by the environment – light, noise, etc. Respond to the items on that list – feed them, put them to bed, hold them, change their diaper, or move them from one room to another, and, chances are, your child has calmed down.
But when you’re child gets a little older, thinks aren’t as straightforward anymore. There could be a plethora of causes for their emotions, and chances are, there’s no one cause at all, but a complicated mix. You can’t simply put your finger on the cause and do away with it for your child. Instead, you have to work with your child to identify what’s upsetting them, and to help them learn how to calm themselves down.
1. Hug them. And keep hugging them. FEELING secure, loved and protected in your arms is sometimes all your child needs to calm down. If your child is older and doesn’t appreciate being hugged, you might put a hand on their back or shoulder instead.
2. Redirect their attention. This is especially true with toddlers, but also works with older kids. When they have gotten too upset, they need help redirecting their attention. For a young child, you need to be actively involved, physically moving them from one location to another, handing them a different toy or book, etc. so they turn their attention in a different direction. Older children need to turn their own attention in a different direction, but you can still help them by suggesting ways they could do so.
3. Keep an eye on what your child watches on screen and who they hang out with. If they are seeing too many aggressive behaviors on TV or in their friends, they are more likely to start imitating those behaviors. Surround your children with good friends and allow them to watch TV shows that you believe will contribute to the harmony of your household.
4. Take time to just BE with your child. Go for a walk. Play a game. Have cookies together. It’s very important for your child to feel that you just want to spend time with him. It’s a time for him to relax, not worried that you’re looking for him to be or think this, that or the other. Having positive, relaxed one-on-one time regularly will make it easier for your child to remain calm on other occasions.
5. Teach your child problem solving skills. Then, when they get upset, ask them to use these skills to come up with different solutions to address the cause of their feelings. Once they’ve addressed the main issue, they will naturally calm down on their own.
6. Talk to your child about ways they can release tension. Suggest things like using a punching bag, running around the block, listening to calming music (or playing an instrument), or taking a walk in nature. Help your child learn what release techniques work best for them. When you sense that your child is getting wound up, suggest that they use an effective strategy for calming down BEFORE they get too upset.
7. Teach your child how to communicate effectively. Give them the words they need by asking them questions or expressing what you think might be upsetting them so they learn how to express themselves verbally instead of lashing out. If your child has a hard time talking about how they feel, give them images, like a series of emoticons showing different emotions. Begin by asking them to show you how they feel using the images. Then move into an actual verbal discussion about why they feel that way.
8. Listen. This goes hand in hand with #2. Teaching your kids to express themselves verbally only works if you listen to them and hear them out. Even if, in the end, you need to make a point and demand something of them, make sure you take the time to fully listen to their point of view first, and address it, if possible.
9. Teach your child to listen to others. Children often get upset because of something someone else does that interrupts their plans. Encourage your child to think of how the other person feels. For example: “OK – maybe the little sibling took the toy you wanted. But before you go to grab it back or get upset about it, think about how your sibling feels and how happy he would be if you let him keep playing with the toy.”
10. Wait until your child is calm before resuming the conversation. If your child gets upset during a conversation with you, continuing the conversation will 1) be completely ineffective and 2) only escalate your child’s emotions further. Wait until your child is calm again, resume the conversation.