How to help your young child calm themselves down

Like my colleague Karen, I am lucky enough to have a spirited child. My sweet, thoughtful, persistent and perceptive daughter feels all of her feelings so profoundly. Finding out that Daddy is working late elicits such sorrow that all I can do is hold her through her tears. If she is angry about something, then watch out!!! There is no talking her down from the tantrum!

After one of my daughter’s recent outbursts, I noticed that once she was technically “over” whatever injustice she felt had been served, she still took a while before she could stop crying, then stop whimpering. Like most kids, she struggles with calming herself down. I’ve tried helping her in the heat of the moment but nothing ever seemed to work.

So after this latest tantrum, and when she was in a better mood and willing to talk, I asked her “is it hard for you to calm down when you are upset?” She nodded her head. “Hey I’ve got a great idea! Let’s come up with ways to help you calm down when you’re upset!” The look on her face! She had a huge smile and was genuinely relieved.

First I told her about mindfulness bottles, or as I like to call them, glitter shakers. You can find the (super easy) recipe here, on page 8, and be sure to watch this moving video below of kids talking about how they use a glitter shaker to calm down.

Then I told my daughter the idea of a small “hideaway” to escape to; a quiet place away from everyone where she could feel calm. We got her little tent, filled it with old pillows and she added about 15 stuffed animals and a couple favourite books. I explained that when she is feeling upset and wants to be alone, she can crawl into there, curl up with a book or hug her stuffies. She said she would also like to bring her glitter shaker in with her. I let her decide on where to put her tent and she picked her bedroom.

A child's tent filled with pillows and stuffed animals

My daughter’s well-loved hideaway tent

What I didn’t realize when we came up with these strategies, is these same techniques can be used to prevent a tantrum and this is exactly what my daughter did the next day, much to my surprise! She figured out a way to cope with her emotions before they got too intense for her to manage. I could not believe my spirited child taught me a lesson in being mindful. Isn’t it amazing how our children can problem-solve once they have the tools and strategies they need?

Now when my daughter gives me clues that she’s starting to feel intense emotions, I try to point out what I see and help her label the emotion. Her “I’m starting to feel intense emotions” clues are: whining, saying “no”, not responding to questions, and being extremely picky. In the past I have tried being firm with her (or worse, frustrated!) but that always resulted in a tantrum. Often I felt hopeless, walking on eggshells since a tantrum was inevitable. It turned out she just needed help to figure out what she was feeling, why she was feeling this way and some gentle suggestions to release the emotions or soothe them. Sometimes she says a hug will help her feel better and sometimes she chooses time alone in her tent. Since we’ve started these strategies, she’s been having far fewer, and shorter tantrums! As my daughter gets older, my hope is that she will continue to cope with and manage her intense feelings in healthy ways. What a gift for her to have healthy coping strategies for the inevitable challenges of life!

These are a few things that really helped my daughter.  Every child is different; your child may prefer a different calming strategy. Try out different ones with your child so they have a few to choose from when they are feeling strong emotions. For more information about parenting with mindfulness and teaching your child self-regulation, check out “Mindful Parenting” from the Australian Childhood Foundation.

Have you tried coming up with calming strategies for your children to use when they are feeling emotional? Share with us what has worked with your children, we would love to hear from you!

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For parenting information or to speak with a public health nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.

About Andrea Scott RN

I’m a public health nurse with the HaltonParents team – you’ll find me blogging, tweeting and answering emails. I’ve been working for the Halton Region Health Department since 2006 and my focus has been on supporting parents with babies and little kids. I have two little ones myself, “Pumpkin” and “Monkey” who give me plenty to blog about! :)
This entry was posted in Parenting, preschoolers, School-aged Children, Toddlers and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to How to help your young child calm themselves down

  1. D Brown says:

    Great post and very helpful. It’s so important to make space for all of our children’s emotions rather than fight them. And it’s a thousand times more intense with our autistic kids. See http://affectautism.com/2015/11/28/co-regulation-in-floortime-how-to-interact-with-a-distressed-child/

  2. Karyn says:

    Thanks for posting this, Andrea! Our family watched the video together tonight after our daughter had calmed down from a tantrum; she was mesmerized by the video. I think we’ll be making a glitter jar soon.

    • Andrea Scott RN says:

      Wow, thanks for sharing Karyn! I haven’t thought of showing my daughter the video after a tantrum, great idea. Will have to give that a try too. Let me know how the glitter jar goes if you make one 🙂
      ~Andrea

  3. Pingback: Snivy lives upstairs – Making self-regulation your own | HaltonParents

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