Raise your hand if you tell your child to “calm down” on a regular basis. If you are continually having to do this and it’s not working, there’s a chance your child isn’t ignoring or disobeying you, they may not possess the skills to regulate their own emotions. They may need specific directions or suggestions on how exactly to manage their stress or anxiety.
There are a number of strategies that can be used to help a child work through their strong emotions. Keep in mind, every child is different and every situation is different so it’s important to have a handful of different strategies you can try. It’s also crucial to keep in mind your child’s developmental stage to make sure they are capable of doing what you are telling them to do.
We suggest trying these ideas when your child is already calm so they get used to them, making it easier to try when they are upset.
Deep breathing exercises
Have them pretend they are blowing out the candles on a birthday cake or blowing up a balloon. Going from the shallow breaths usually accompanied by anxiety to deep breathing can take your child’s mind off the situation and help connect them back to their body and mind.
Whether you sing to your child or have them sing their own favorite song, music has been scientifically proven to reduce the anxiety. Try both calming songs and songs you can get up and dance to, in order to see what works best.
Count or say the alphabet
Depending on your child’s developmental level, you can have them count to 10, count backwards from 100 or say the alphabet forwards or backwards. The idea is to engage the left side of their brain which is said to be more logical part of the brain.
Swing or rock in a rocking chair
Any type of consistent rhythmic motion slows down your heart rate and has a synchronizing effect on the brain.
Whether you label people’s feelings in real life or in a book you read with them, assigning an emotion like “happy” “sad” “scared” “mad” or “excited” can better help them express their emotions when they are upset.
Do something physical
Have them push really hard against a wall or run as fast as they can. Contracting and relaxing your muscles is said to have a calming effect on the body.
Change the situation
Sometimes a change of scenery may be all it takes to calm their emotions. This can be especially effective if your child is prone to sensory overload.