We Can Calm Down

We can show kids how to manage big feelings and stay calm.

Everything is more difficult when you feel upset. When our feelings feel a bit out of control, even routine tasks or our usual interactions can seem impossible. This is true for adults, so imagine how difficult it must be for young children. That’s why it’s important to develop a toolbox of tricks, techniques, and resources to help young people and adults manage their big feelings.

Deep Breaths

When your brain is calm, it tells your body to take deep, slow breaths. But that conversation between the brain and body goes both ways, so if you take deep, slow breaths, it tells your brain to calm down. There are so many ways to use breathing to calm down. In addition to Smelling the Flowers, both adults and children can use these techniques:

  • Stuffed Animal Ride – Have your child lay down on their back and place a small stuffed animal on her belly. Then say, “You’re going to give your stuffie a ride, but we have to make sure it’s nice and slow so he doesn’t get scared.” Have your child take a slow, deep breath in to fill her belly and make the stuffed animal rise, then have her release the breath to slowly let the animal drop back down. Repeat this four or five times.
  • Snake Breath – Tell your child to take a very deep breath, hold it for a moment, then let it out very slowly by hissing like a snake. Count as your child hisses, asking “how long can you make your snake hiss last?” Repeat this four or five times.
  • Mountain Breaths – Have your child hold up a hand, fingers spread out. Have him place the index finger of his other hand at the outside bottom of his thumb. Say, “Now we’re going to climb up and down the mountain!” Have your child move his index finger slowly up the thumb while taking a breath in, then have him move his index finger slowly down the other side of the thumb while breathing out. Continue this as he moves through the fingers on his hand, breathing in as he moves up and out as he moves down.

Play a Focus Game

When our feelings are out of control, it can feel like a thousand things are happening at once. A great way to calm down is to focus on just one thing. There are quick and easy ways to do this:

  • Animal Alphabet – Ask your child to make up a list of animals using the ABCs. For example, they might start with, “Alligator, Bear, Cow, Donkey, Elephant…” This takes a little bit of concentration, so it can help quiet overactive minds.
  • Story of the Day – Have your child think about the very beginning of the day. Ask, “what was the very first thing you did when you woke up?” Then, have her say the very next thing she did. Then the next, and the next. Have her mention the most specific details she can think of (“I got out of bed. I walked to my closet. I put on a new shirt.”)

Focusing your brain on something else is also a great exercise for adults. In addition to the above, you might try making other, non-stressful lists, such as groceries to buy or the names of your childhood teachers.

Have a Calming Space

We all have certain places that help us feel calmer, particular objects that are calming to touch, and sounds, sights, and smells that bring us peace. A great calm-down strategy is to help your child identify these kinds of soothing objects to create a small calming space for them. The space can have soft blankets to cuddle, comforting stuffed animals, and any other elements that helps your child feel at ease. Then, if your child is having a tantrum, they can spend a minute in their calming space.

It’s very important for parents and caregivers to have a calming space of their own as well. Just having a place that is your own to take a private moment to breathe and collect yourself can be all you need to keep your temper in check and do some self-care.