Teaching our children how to regulate their emotions and calm down when they are upset is an essential life skill. Anger, frustration, anxiety, fear and sadness are inevitable as they interact with others and encounter different situations. Therefore, it is important that they learn how to process such emotions in a productive way.
Here are 4 things you can do to help you child learn how to regulate their feelings and calm down.
1. TEACH CALM DOWN STRATEGIES (Self-regulation)
- Teach your child strategies they can use to manage their feelings in appropriate ways. Some strategies you can teach include taking a deep breath when angry, doing a quiet activity when upset, or asking others for a hug when they are afraid. This can be taught through the use of visuals like our Calm Down Strategies Chart or books talking about feelings. Remember that your child needs to learn and practice these strategies in a calm and neutral state. Do not try and practice when your child is in the middle of a "meltdown".
- Model and talk about how you manage your own feelings. For example, you might say, "When daddy is ANGRY, daddy needs to take a deep breath and take a walk to calm down”.
2. VALIDATE THEIR FEELINGS (Connect before correcting)
- When your child next experiences big emotions, instead of saying “stop being angry!” or “stop crying”, try acknowledging/validating how they feel to start. For example, you might say, “I see that you are feeling ANGRY because your sister destroyed your train tracks.” Remember to model calmness in your tone, body language and expression when speaking with your agitated child.
- If your child's feelings are out of control, hold space by simply being present and wait for their emotions to pass. Model calmness.
3. PROBLEM SOLVE AFTER
- Help them to calm down before providing correction! It is difficult for anyone (adults included) to listen to reasoning when they are emotional, irrational, and out of control! For example, you might say, "I see that you are very ANGRY. Do you need help to calm down?” Keep your directions short and simple. Use visuals or pictures as reminders (e.g. a Calm Down Strategies Chart).
- Talk with your child about the incident and its consequences after they are CALM. Revisiting an earlier incident (e.g. a 'meltdown') helps your child think about what happened and what could have been done differently. This is a good opportunity to remind them of the rules and boundaries you have set, as well as to revisit the calm down strategies they can use. For example, you might say, "Remember, it is okay to feel upset when someone snatches your toy, but it is not okay to scream.", and "when we feel upset what can we do to calm down?".
4. PROVIDE PRAISE FOR THEIR EFFORTS
- When helping your child to regulate their feelings, pay close attention to their efforts to calm down, however small! For example, if your child is in the middle of a meltdown and you see her take a deep breath, you can say, “I like that you took a deep breath”.
- Be sincere and very specific. When providing praise, make sure to label the behaviour you are praising. For example, instead of saying "good job!", you might say, "I like that you came to ask me for help when you were angry". This helps to ensure your child understands what you are praising them for!
Remember, practice makes perfect! Finding what strategies work for you and helping your child learn what works for them may involve some trial and error, and lots of patience and love :)