All educators at some point find their levels of frustration rising. It is at these times that everything seems to come at once, including difficult behaviour with children. Do you ever find yourself saying in frustration “Calm Down?”
Telling a child to calm down is ineffective. It is sending the message that they shouldn’t or are not allowed to be feeling angry or frustrated. In fact, it can be more aggravating and escalate the situation. Helping a child to calm down is far more effective, but the best solution is to teach them over time how to achieve calm. It is a great skill to have and while it takes time and practice to learn, the way you teach them involves much more than using words.
Solutions To Helping a Child Calm Down
STEP ONE: Change Our Language
Our language needs to change if we are to help our children learn how to achieve calm. Think about when you are in a heightened state, when you are frustrated or feeling angry. What if someone told you to “calm down”. It just aggravates you further and doesn’t offer anything constructive to work with.
Here are some alternatives to use.
1. It’s Ok To Be Sad.
Sometimes we just need permission and validation that it is ok to feel how we are feeling. There is nothing worse than being told that our feelings are incorrect. They are how “we” feel so they are valid. While you might not understand how your child is feeling, it is ok for your child to be sad and to hear those words when you are feeling sad is comforting.
2. I Can See This Is Hard For You
All of us need acknowledgement that situations might be difficult for us. It doesn’t matter if someone else finds it difficult or not, to have someone validate that they can see it is that way for us, without judgement, helps to brings walls down, not build emotional walls because we feel the need to defend ourselves and our feelings.
3. I Know This Can Be Frustrating. Let’s Figure It Out Together
An offer of help makes a child feel less isolated amidst the challenge. Whether it be a younger child having an emotional meltdown or a teenager being anxious, they obviously don’t have the answer. Having someone offer to help figure it out with you provides comfort and a way out.
4. I Am Here With You
Having someone there with you, going through difficult challenges is emotionally easier. We all need support. You know the old saying “a problem shared is a problem halved” and this is a perfect example of how this can work. Sometimes just knowing someone is there can help.
5. I Can See You Are Unhappy. Tell Me About It.
Encouraging communication is always a good option. Don’t think you have to wait until children are verbal to use this strategy. You can start this with babies. While their conversation might be in body cues rather than words, their receptive language (what they understand) is about 6 months ahead of their expressive language (what they can say) and remember babbling is their language.
For older children who are verbal, let them tell you their version without judgement, just listening. Keep eye contact and invest yourself in the process so they feel you are really listening.
STEP TWO: Have The Child Identify And Concentrate On What Is Going On Inside Their Body
This step involves the sense of Interoception which is known as our 8th sense. This is an essential sense for children to learn how to achieve calm on their own. If a child has sensory difficulties, their interoception will be compromised.
6. I Can See You Are Angry. Tell Me How Your Body Feels.
For a child to be able to achieve clam on their own, they need to identify and feel what is going on in their body. They need to feel it, identify it, label it and then have a strategy for it. That is a lot of steps and the younger the child, the more help they will need in that process. The more you do it, the better they will get at moving through the steps themselves.
7. How About We Make Bubbles With Our Hands?
This offers an alternative to how they are feeling and interrupts their brain patterns. While making exploding bubble patterns with your hands, say the words “bloop bloop bloop” as you start low and go high. This engages the vestibular and auditory systems and once again, hijacks the brain into a different function.
8. Let’s Take Some Deep Breaths
Breathing deeply does 2 things. Firstly it helps them to focus on what is happening inside their body, and connecting them with it and secondly deep breathing is a relaxation technique in and of itself. It also gives the brain time to stop, and diverts attention into something specific and away from the rising emotional state.
9. Let’s Blow Into Our Hands
Just like deep breathing, this is another tactic that breaks the focus of the brain and gets the child focusing on something else. It is tactile, so they will be getting stimulation and information from blowing onto their hands, which results in the brain actively interpreting that information. After this you could use communication to sort through the challenge.
10. I Hear You Need Space. I Want To Be Here For You So I Will Be Over Here And When You Are Ready You Can Come And Get Me
When all else fails and the child is having a total tantrum reassure them you are there, give them time and space in a safe place and move away. Let them come to you when they are ready. Feel free to reassure them again where you are and that you are ready to listen when they are ready if it continues for awhile.
Teaching a child to achieve calm on their own takes time, patience and consistency. It doesn’t happen overnight, but is well worth the investment! Just keep working with alternatives until you find what works for you and your child. Having strategies to use in your parent toolkit also gives you a better chance at not getting so frustrated when you are faced with a frustrated or angry child.