This post was written by ParentTV psychologist Dr Jodie Lowinger
Every child has meltdowns or throws tantrums from time to time. Your child may become upset for a number of reasons whether it be anxiety or simply not getting their way. As a parent or caregiver it is not your job to ensure that your child never gets upset. It is more effective to teach them coping skills they can use when they are upset. In particular, it can be extremely helpful to teach them self-calming strategies.
Here are some steps to take to help a child calm down:
1. CONTROL YOUR REACTION
In order for your child to begin to learn how to calm themselves down it is important that you do not give in to their demands while they are upset. It is crucial not to teach them that throwing a tantrum is an effective way to get what they want. Similarly, if they are experiencing anxiety about a situation it is important not to reinforce the anxiety by allowing them to avoid the situation. This is easier said than done because it is difficult to watch your child in pain or to make a scene in public. During a meltdown or bout of anxiety, try to remain calm and maintain your composure.
2. TEACH YOUR CHILD THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CALM AND UPSET
In order for your child to use self-calming techniques they must first be able to recognise the difference between being calm and upset. You can show the difference with visual aids such as pictures of kids who are calm versus upset and get them to identify which state each child in the photograph is in. You can also help them recognise the feelings they experience when they are upset versus calm, such as increased heart rate.
Once your child has learnt how to identify their emotions as calm or upset they can further identify them as anxious, angry, scared, sad etc. This will help them increase their emotional intelligence, self-awareness as well as empathy as they will better be able to label the emotional states of their peers too.
3. TEACH THEM CALMING STRATEGIES WHEN THEY ARE CALM
When your child is in the throws of anxiety or the midst of a tantrum they are not as receptive to being taught new skills. This is why calming strategies need to be taught once they have become calm.
Some great calming strategies include:
- Practicing Slow Breathing Together: Work on slow, deep breathing during calm periods so this technique can be more easily used during stressful times. When your child becomes anxious their breathing will become more shallow and this can increase panic. Teaching your child to slow their breathing will help them lower their heart rate and achieve a greater sense of physical calm.
- Engage Them in Problem Solving: When appropriate, actively engage your child in problem solving. For example, if they are worried about a situation ask them what they would do if something actually happened? How would they deal with the situation? This can help your child think about the situation more logically and gain a sense of control.
- Listening to Music: If you child loves music then help them put together a list of songs that help them relax or feel happy. They can listen to these songs on a device when they feel upset.
- Experiencing Nature: Studies conducted by Stanford University have linked exposure to green outdoor spaces to positive feelings and calmness in children.
- Exercise: Children can get antsy if they do not have enough mental and physical stimulation, making them more prone to tantrums and feelings of anxiety.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation: This technique consists of tensing muscle groups and then releasing the tension. Have your child tense the muscles in their face or clench their fists then release. This can help them calm down and increases their awareness of how their emotions feel in their body.
4. REMIND THEM TO USE THESE STRATEGIES
The next time your child becomes upset try to remind them to utilise calming strategies before they lose control. Ask them to choose a strategy they’ve been taught or demonstrate one for them. Eventually your child should be able to remain calm enough to use one of these strategies. However, the first few times you may not see the results you want. It is important to persist and help your child discover which strategies are effective for them.