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Helping children calm down

1. Notice and identify the emotion

If your child looks like they need help to calm down, stop. Pay attention to what your child’s behaviour is telling you about their feelings before you do or say anything else. You can do this by:

  • looking closely at your child
  • watching their body language
  • listening to what your child is saying.

For example, if you ask your child to turn off the TV and have a shower, your child might ignore you, or roll around on the floor and complain loudly. This gives you a clue that your child is feeling angry.

2. Name and connect the emotion

  • what they’re feeling and why
  • how their body reacts to this feeling
  • what words go with the feeling.

It also shows your child that you understand how they feel and that this emotion is OK, even if their behaviour isn’t OK. For example, if your child is rolling around on the floor and complaining loudly about turning off the TV, you could say, ‘I can see that you’re feeling angry about turning off the TV’.

3. Pause and say nothing

Pausing and saying nothing for a few seconds gives your child time to take in what you’ve just said. It’s hard not to jump in and start talking. You might find it helps to count slowly to five in your head while you wait.

This pause might be enough for your child to calm down and move on to something else. Or they might solve the problem for themselves. For example, ‘Could I watch more TV after I’ve had my shower?’

4. Support your child while they calm down

  • Make sure that they’re safe and you’re safe.
  • Stay calm and close to your child. This shows that you understand and can handle whatever their emotions are.
  • Go back to step 1 – for example, ‘I can see you’re really furious about this’.
  • Wait for the strong emotion to pass. Be patient. It can be very hard for young children to manage strong feelings.

It’s important to let your child know that it’s OK to feel strong emotions. When your child is calm, you might need to help your child understand the difference between the emotion and the behaviour. For example, ‘It’s OK to feel frustrated and disappointed. But it wasn’t OK to yell at me and kick the wall’.

5. Address the behaviour or solve the problem

  • suggest other ways to react to strong emotions – for example, ‘If you feel excited, clap your hands or ‘If you feel angry, go into your room and squeeze your pillow hard. Come back when you’re calm’
  • reassure or comfort your child – for example,  ‘I’m sorry to see you so sad. Let’s have a hug’
  • suggest some solutions for the problem
  • set some limits – for example, ‘I know you were angry, but hitting is never OK’.

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