Many times on the 1-on-1 Coaching team, we coach parents to say to their kids, “You need to calm yourself down,” and then walk away from their screaming child to allow both parent and child space to do so. The reason why we give this advice is because we recognize that when anyone (adult or child) is emotional, the logical, rational parts of the brain that help with effective problem solving are turned off. This is why it's vital that both you and your child are calm when you're trying to start a conversation about problem solving — which is one of the crucial steps in parenting more effectively. When we coach parents on this, we frequently get the follow-up question: “Well, OK, but what do they do to calm down?” The truth is, there are as many answers to this question as there are kids in the world!
The key to solving this problem with your child lies in things such as temperament, age, amount of physical activity, and other things that your child enjoys. As a parent, you know your child best. What kinds of activities does your son enjoy? When he gets upset, does he tend to act out by yelling, or “act in” by refusing to talk with you? Does your daughter show her emotions physically by throwing things, or does she continue to scream in your face and refuse to move from her spot? For example, a more withdrawn younger child might respond well to drawing a picture or having alone time in his room, whereas an active teenager might want to go outside and play basketball to calm herself down. Some other common ideas to use in the moment include deep breathing, counting, journaling, listening to music or repeating a calming phrase, such as “This isn’t worth it” or “I can do this.”
Part of coaching kids on calming themselves down is also planning for becoming upset. It's going to be ineffective to say to your child, “Well, just don’t get angry/stressed/upset anymore!” because it's unlikely your child will respond, “You're right. I'll stop right now!” Everyone has these emotions; the key is helping your child figure out how to express them in appropriate ways. As with any problem solving, we encourage parents to let their child come up with possible alternatives for working through their frustrations, while parents take on more of a questioning role to help kids move toward a workable solution.
The key to teaching kids how to soothe themselves is recognizing not only what appears to trigger them, but also what tends to calm them down. Eventually, with your consistent coaching and problem-solving, it’s likely that your child will be able to see their own behavior before they escalate, and take the initiative to calm themselves down.
Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving Momma to her son and a dedicated 1-on-1 Coach. She earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University and has been with Empowering Parents since 2011. Rebecca has experience working with children and families in home settings and schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have survived significant emotional and physical trauma.