Just Calm Down!
Tips for helping kids calm themselves when they're upset
“Just calm down!” How many times have we said that to our spouses, our children, even ourselves? But simply saying the words rarely has the desired affect. How do we teach children to calm themselves?
Whether it is teaching young children how to breathe like a bunny or to find a safe place to quiet themselves, Elizabeth Barlow, a certified yoga education instructor and director of RECESS (Resource Education for Calming, Energizing, Self-awareness and Self-regulation) and Paige Whalen, quality enhancement initiative coordinator for the Childcare Resource Center, are all about calming kids.
“It is important to intervene before our children lose it,” says Whelan, who is also mother to a 3-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. “It’s important to know your children — to know what triggers their tempers,” she says.
According to Whelan, two of the most common triggers for all children are hunger and fatigue. She says that even school-age children don’t connect emotional distress with a need to eat. “I know that when my children are hungry or tired, they are more likely to lose it.
So even if it is almost dinner- time, I sometimes know that my 3-year-old is not going to make it and needs a snack. If my son is picking at his friends in the afternoon, he’s probably tired. It may be time for him to lay low, watch TV, or do something else low-key.”
Here are more of Whelan’s recommendations for helping children stay calm or to calm themselves if they are already upset:
Scheduling: Children cope better when things are predictable. If they know what to expect, they are less likely to lose self-control and more likely to retain the ability to respond appropriately.
Keep your cool: Children respond to parent’s stress. Even if you think you’re not letting on, children can sense tension.
The importance of touch: Hold a hand, put a hand on a shoulder, get down on eye level and ask, “What’s going on?” Let them know that you unconditionally love them. Take a break and hold your child if that is what he or she needs.
Using feeling words: Teach your child to express feelings verbally. Very young children can be taught that it is better to let out their anger with a growl instead of a hit.
Provide a calming place: Time Out should not be used as punishment, but as a tool to help children learn self-control and self-regulation. The child’s bedroom is not always the best place. Some children feel safest on their parent’s bed or in a comfy chair.
Barlow’s RECESS curriculum incorporates calming techniques for children in grades pre-K through12. “RECESS allows students to gain tools to manage their inner state and take responsibility for their behavior,” says Barlow.
Barlow says that young children can be taught simple breathing skills (bunny breathing) to calm down. RECESS also teaches children to visualize going to their “secret garden” (a quiet inner place) with their special animal friend when they are feeling scared or angry.
Older students and teens learn that they have a “choice about how they react.” A negative thought, such as “I hate tests,” is turned into a positive affirmation such as “I am relaxed and capable.”
“If children are taught these skills when they are young, they will reach for these tools more quickly and without reserve as they get older,” says Whelan.
“All of these techniques are about shifting the mind/body state to a healthier place so that children can take better care of themselves,” says Barlow.