I’m sure every parent has experienced a time when their child was completely out of control.
Pitching a fit.
Whatever you want to call it, we have alllll been there.
Here’s the thing, friends.
It’s completely normal for children to flip out over unreasonable things.
They are KIDS. Learning how to manage their emotions is a skill that they have yet to master. That’s where WE come in as parents!
Kids needs us to teach them ways to calm down. It is not a learned skill!
We have this wonderful job of teaching our children skills to cope with their emotions; I sometimes feel as if we overlook this vital part of parenting.
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Parents are sometimes too quick to punish their children for throwing a fit; now, I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be a consequence for a bad attitude and a kicking, screaming tantrum.
But I AM saying that there shouldn’t be a consequence without teaching involved.
The purpose of discipline is to teach. It is pointless to punish a child for a behavior that is beyond their control.
So, a natural consequence- such as leaving the park for throwing a fit about losing their turn at the swing- is perfect.
What is even better is to turn that fit into a teachable moment.
The teachable moment probably won’t happen during the actual tantrum, but later, when everyone is calm and in better spirits.
Here are the steps to teach kids how to be able to calm down and handle their emotions.
1. Teach Calm Down Strategies While Calm
The first step is to demonstrate calming down strategies at a time when they are already calm.
I’ve never had a drug-free birth, but I’ve spoken with mamas who have, and they’ve told me that it wouldn’t be possible without the birthing classes.
Practicing the coping skills when they’re calm… before they are actually in labor.
It’s really important that you work on calming skills with your kids at a calm time.
I suggest implementing it into your daily bedtime routine! Brush teeth, pajamas, calm down strategy, book, lights out.
You can also make it into a game and take turns acting out the calming strategies.
I absolutely love the book Calm Down Time for toddlers and it’s what I have used with my kiddos.
We read the book daily when they are young. After we read it, we practice our calm down breathing activities.
2. Practice Calm Down Strategies While Upset
Once you start introducing the calm down activities, you can start to put them into action when your child is upset.
You’ll have to walk them through it at first.
It should go something like this:
“I see you’re upset because your brother has the train that you want. Let’s take a big breath and practice blowing up a balloon together.”
When I do this, I make my voice loud and firm (so that they can hear me over
I find that it also helps to give a little bit of a reason for them to calm down, such as telling them that if continue to yell they will lose the privilege of playing trains for the rest of the day or something similar.
When I tell them that, I always make sure to reinforce how they can calm down.
“Take a big breath with me and let’s do sticky hands together and then you can use your big girl voice to ask your brother for a turn with the train.”
This works much better and faster than something along the lines of “stop crying or you’re going to timeout.”
3. Use Action Phrases
Do you ever get mad about irrational things?
I definitely do, and I’m an adult who has learned to manage my emotions.
So it makes perfect sense that children, who HAVEN’T learned how to manage their emotions are going to become upset by irrational things.
Tell me: when you are upset about something irrational, do you feel better or worse if someone tells you to calm down?
Yep. Me, too. If my husband were to tell me to CALM DOWN when I’m mad about something… things would NOT end well for him.
All this to say, is that we need to keep that in mind with our kiddos. Telling them to ‘calm down’ or ‘stop throwing a fit’ is pointless… especially if we haven’t taught them how to calm down.
Instead of saying “calm down,” use action phrases to help them with their calm down strategies (those are listed below!).
4. Name the Emotion
If you have seen the PBS series Daniel Tiger, you know that Mom Tiger is the BEST at this.
Naming the emotion for your child can be done by saying “I see that you’re angry,” “It seems that you’re feeling sad,” or “I can tell you’re upset about this,” or something along those lines.
Here’s my example from above: “I see you’re upset because your brother has the train that you want. Let’s take a big breath and practice blowing up a balloon.”
Calming Activities for Children
I have several activities for you. How do you know which calm down activities will work for your child?
I suggest you start by teaching the breathing ones. I’ve found them to be the most effective with my children (and for me, as well!)
Once they’ve either mastered them, or they aren’t working, choose a skill from another category.
The ultimate goal is for your children to be able to calm down without any help from you or anything else.
This is a work in progress, though. Over time, the problem solving and calming skills will come.
But, your child needs your help to get there.
What Age Should I Start Calming Strategies With Kids?
You can start these activities with children as young as toddlers.
They will need more guidance than older children, but the younger you start… the easier it will be when they’re older.
Breathing Activities to Calm Down
As a musician (wind player!) and avid (although not quite currently) exercise lover, I believe that deep breathing techniques are a drastically underused tool.
Deep breaths literally slow your heartbeat.
When you’re mad or upset- your heartbeat races.
Teaching your child how to control their breathing is such a valuable skill. Let’s be real, it’s a good thing for us to practice as well!
Hold your hands in front of your lips as if you’re about to blow up a balloon. Take a big breath in and then exhale slowly. As you exhale, widen your hands as if they’re around the balloon.
When it’s big enough, you can clap. your hands together to ‘pop’ the balloon.
To do the rabbit, you can crouch on the ground like a bunny, but you can also just sit regularly.
Take a short, shallow sniff in through the nose, like a rabbit, and exhale out through the mouth. Repeat this 5ish times.
Hold up a hand and blow out the ‘candles’ on each finger. Count “one” then inhale, blow on your finger, and repeat for 5 fingers.
Raise your fingers as if you’re holding a dart and fill your lungs with air. Blow the air out really fast and act as if you’re throwing a dart.
Inhale and on your exhale make a hissing sound.
Physical Activities to Calm Down
Physical activities that engage the entire body are a wonderful way to relieve anxiety and stress in kids.
I have found with my children that while the breathing activities help when they’re throwing a fit, the physical activities work really well when we’re just having a bad day.
I can’t get my kids to do these activities in the middle of throwing a fit, BUT if I can sense that everyone is about to implode, I’ll try to get them to do some whole body movement activities.
Cross your legs and wrap your arms around yourself to make a pretzel. Once you’re all twisted up, give yourself a big squeeze.
Push the Wall
Find a flat, sturdy wall with nothing hanging on it.
Push against the wall really hard for 20 seconds and then release.
Repeat a few times.
Press the palms of your hands firmly together and count to 20. When you let go, your hands will act as if they’re still stuck together.
Sensory Activities to Calm Down
To be honest, sensory activities are ones that we haven’t quite delved into, other than meditation.
However, Theo has been having a LOT of difficulties transitioning to bedtime and I want to make him a calm down sensory bin to help him with the transition.
We have seen a play-based counselor a few times with Theo. One of the things she recommended was meditation.
Theo was having a really difficult time calming down one night and I thought about trying meditation.
I told him we were playing a game and had him close his eyes.
I said to picture a black piece of paper with a white circle piece of paper on it. Then, I had him ‘move’ the white circle up, down, and around on the black piece of paper.
All that time, I reminded him to take big, deep breaths.
It worked pretty well, and I was really amazed at how well he calmed down!
A sensory bottle is something else that we haven’t tried yet but I want to make one because I have heard such great things about them.
You can click here to find instructions on how to make a sensory bottle.
Or you can buy one here!
Stress putty (which is a play dough like substance) and stress balls work similarly. They are great for relieving stress and helping children calm down.
Since Theo has been having such a hard time winding down at bedtime, I want to make a calm down bin for him with some of these sensory items in it.
I think having him do it for even just ten minutes before he starts his bedtime routine would be a huge improvement.
Calm Down Books for Young Children
I hope this helps and please let me know if you try any of these activities!
1. Teach While Calm: Be sure to teach your child the skills to calm down when they are calm and in good spirits. Read a book about calming down and talk through the different activities they can do when they're feeling upset.
2. Practice While Upset: Help your little one practice these skills when they're upset. You will have to walk them through what to do. Give them lots of praise when they successfully calm down!
3. Use Action Phrases: Use action phrases to help your children calm down. Instead of telling them to calm down, give them instructions to perform the calming technique you want them to try.
4. Identify Their Emotion: It can take a while for children to understand their emotions. Naming their emotion for them every time they're upset will help them to figure it out faster the next time.
DEEP BREATHING ACTIVITIES
PHYSICAL WHOLE BODY ACTIVITIES
*Push the wall
*Stress putty or stress ball
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