Practical Calm Down Strategies for Children
Updated: May 28, 2020
Okay, let's face it: telling your child to "calm down" when they are feeling really stressed or about to have a total meltdown works about 0.0001% of the time. What works for us to calm our bodies and our minds may work on our children, but there's certain techniques that won't give you the results you're looking for.
For children to learn to calm themselves, we need to help support their emotional self-regulation. In other words, we need to help children find ways to cope with strong feelings so they don’t become overwhelmed, help them control their behaviours and be able to focus or redirect their attention... sounds easy enough, right? (Note my sarcastic tone).
Children develop self-regulation, first and foremost, through positive and responsive relationships. This means talking about feelings/emotions and role-modelling will be two key components to helping your child manage their behaviour and reactions.
Self-regulation develops the most in the toddler-preschool years, but keeps developing into the school age years and right into adulthood. If we can give our children the tools that they need during those early years, it will help carry them into the later years!
There's no worse feeling than when you're in those moments of total helplessness of wanting to help your child but you're not sure how to bring them back from that negative headspace. Here are some practical strategies you can use to help your child calm down:
I know it's one of those things that sounds so simple, but it really is SO important to make sure your child is getting the oxygen that they need. This is always a great first step to bringing your kids back down, because that rapid-breathing that can come with a tantrum in turn creates more anxiety.
One technique to encourage breathing is to have your child point their index finger up (or you can put your finger in front of their face) and tell them "smell the flower, blow out the candle" and give them that visual to help with the breathing. If they are a little younger, you could always use a good/bad approach and tell them to "inhale superheroes, exhale villans" or something that matches their interests.
2. Grounding & Getting Active
I've seen SUCH a difference in both my children and children I have taught in childcare when physical movement is part of the equation. You can help your children get out of that zone of that negative-thinking cycle by allowing them to get outside where they can breathe in the fresh air, not be constricted by four walls, and be able to "let all their sillies out."
For a calm outdoor activity, you can even ask your child to go into nature and look for 5 things they can see, 4 things they can touch, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell, and 1 thing they can taste. If they respond better to more robust movement, you can have them go for a run, jump on a trampoline, dance around, or skip rope.
Having time outdoors as a regular part of your routine will help prevent as many meltdowns, but it's also a good strategy for when they're already in that headspace. In the same way a walk away from an issue can help us collect our thoughts, allowing your child to move their body can help them develop that regulation.
3. Comfort & Touch
Yes, sometimes you just want to get away from your child when they are kicking and screaming on the ground (especially in public) and it can make us want to disconnect... but these are the times when that connection can be the most useful for your child!
Having that connection - a hug, cuddle, back scratch, shoulder rub, whatever it may be - can help release muscle tension, lowers blood pressure and anxiety. Ask them, "would you like a hug?" If not, that connection and touch with a favourite stuffy, or a call to Grandma could make all the difference. Weighted blankets and weighted stuffed animals can be a great alternative, too.
4. Books & Music
Grabbing your child's favourite book or throwing on some music, whether it be their favourite songs or something with a slow and calming tempo, will allow your child to switch their attention to something they associate with in a positive way. Your child could be chanting along with Mortimer or bopping along to Old MacDonald, and get themselves back to their center.
Another great technique I've been work for some children is creating your own special song with them or for them! You can sing their name to them, or come up with something they think is silly or funny. With my oldest, we would sing something along the signs of "oh cheeky girl, cheeky girl, I love you..." or "Evelyn, Evelyn, what a wonderful name!" We then did variations of those for my son as well, and will probably find something similar for our youngest when she's old enough to need it.
5. Sensory Toys & Calm Down Corners
Sensory bins, sensory bottles, sensory bags... you name it! There's so many that you can try that can be calming and mesmerizing to a child. Squishy pillows, a rocking chair, fidget spinners, even playdough can be used in a calming manner. Even a projector (like the ones that project stars on your ceiling) or white noise can be a sensorial calming mechanism!
Some people even like to use these tools in something called a Calm Down Corner. This is an area children can go to when they are having big feelings and might be overwhelmed, and can have some time to focus and redirect their attention and behaviour in a positive way. This is a tool you need to teach you child to use, but can become a blessing later on if you put the effort in in the beginning.
Just a reminder that every child is different and will respond to each strategy in a different way. Try two or three or all of them to see what works for each child, and keep your expectations and patience reasonable!
Make sure to let me know which techniques work best for your child, I'd love to hear which ones are most popular!