Many children have difficulty regulating their emotions. Tantrums, outbursts, whining, defiance, fighting: these are all behaviors you see when kids experience powerful feelings they can’t control. Parents can start by helping children understand how their emotions work. Kids don’t go from calm to sobbing on the floor in an instant. That emotion builds over time, like a wave. Kids can learn control by noticing and labeling their feelings earlier, before the wave gets too big to handle.
Here are the 5 tips to help children calm down:
- Validate their feelings. Validation is a powerful tool for helping kids calm down by communicating that you understand and accept what they’re feeling.
- Paying positive attention. The most powerful tool parents have in influencing behavior is attention. When you’re shaping a new behavior, you want to praise it and give a lot of attention to it.
- Clear expectations. Another key way to help prevent kids from getting dysregulated is to make your expectations clear and follow consistent routines.
- Give options. When kids are asked to do things, they’re not likely to feel enthusiastic about it, giving them options may reduce outbursts and increase compliance. For instance: “You can either come with me food shopping or you can go with Dad to pick up your sister.” Or: “You can get ready for bed now and we can read a story together — or you can get ready for bed in 10 minutes and no story.”
- Five special minutes a day. Even a small amount of time set aside reliably, every day, for mom or dad to do something chosen by a child can help that child manage stress at other points in the day. It’s a time for positive connection, without parental commands, ignoring any minor misbehavior, just attending to your child and letting her be in charge. It can help a child who’s having a tough time in school, for instance, to know she can look forward to that special time. “These five minutes of parental attention should not be contingent on good behavior,”. It’s a time, no matter what happened that day, to reinforce that ‘I love you no matter what.’