IN MY work with children and families in the last 15 years, the most common question I'm asked is how to help children calm down. Parents feel out of control as they are unsure of the best way to act and respond and often end up feeling stressed or angry themselves.
When we experience strong negative emotions, we breathe faster, our heart beats faster, and our system is flooded with stress hormones. We stop thinking straight. Whether the big emotion is anger, anxiety or sadness, the trick is to get the heart rate and breathing lowered so that thinking becomes rational again.
Here are some examples of calming activities:
1 If you're calm enough, hug your child. Breathe deeply and slowly as you do.
2 To slow breathing down, let your child blow bubbles using bubble mixture. They just can't do this if they're hyperventilating.
3 Tell them a story or describe an imaginary journey that they can visualise.
4 Let your child do something physical such as jumping on the trampoline, playing keepy-uppy with a balloon or a ball, doing angry star jumps or having a giant stretch on the floor.
5 Ask them to draw a picture of how they're feeling so they don't have to find the words immediately. This is especially good for anxious feelings. Or let them scribble madly.
6 Do sensory activities like play dough, finger painting or playing with a sink of warm bubbly water.
7 Let them listen to music. Give them some space.
8 Listen to them. Children are allowed to be angry, sad and anxious. Ask them to tell you what they're feeling and why. Don't try and reason with them and fix it when the feelings are still big.
9 Squeeze a pillow or teddy tightly, or stroke and cuddle it.
10 Talk their feelings into the bear's fur or the pillow so no-one needs to hear it until they're ready to share it.
Calming down is the necessary first step in resolving any issue. It is the most basic of emotional skills but can be so difficult to do. Support your child, give them space and time to learn to calm down, first with your help and gradually more independently.