Emotions are so BIG, especially when they are coming out of a small uncontrollable body. Even as an adult, I have a hard time controlling my emotions sometimes, and being a parent brings out the best and worst in you. So expecting my kids to control their emotions is like expecting my dog to be toilet trained. I believe in teaching and providing tools for our children so they can learn to control their emotions, same as adults. Sending children to their rooms to calm down or giving them time out is not teaching them to control their emotions. Children need to learn to recognize, name, and tame their emotions. Sending them to isolation may temporarily give you relief, but does not solve the problem long term.
I love how Daniel J. Siegel explains it in his book The Whole Brain Child. We have an upstairs and a downstairs brain. Our emotions come from the downstairs brain. In order to calm down, we need to engage the upstairs part of the brain. So, how do we help our children engage their upstairs brain? We engage their senses or get them thinking.
10 Ways To Calm Down The Raging Child
- Kinetic sand– engage their sense of touch. Allow them to play with the kinetic sand until they are calm enough to talk and maybe even a few extra minutes. Have them tell you what they are doing/making.
- Color with scented markers– Ask them to draw a picture about how they are feeling, what happened, or anything they want. Have them tell you about their picture. Smell their drawing together when they are done!
- Glitter or sensory bottle- These have been all the rage lately, and they are a great tool! Your child can shake them, look for hidden items, and watch the swirls while they calm down. Instructions on how to make one here!
- Roll on essential oil– Have them smell the oil, then you rub it on their inner wrists and the sides of the neck. Next, allow them to rub the oil on you as well. This engages smell and touch. Even if you don’t believe in essential oils, the focus of this is the smell and touch. You could also use scented lotion- I just like the ease of a roll on.
- Ask them to play a quick game. “Can you touch 3 green things? Perfect, you touched 3 green things. Now, can you touch 2 yellow things?” This gets them to switch focus and start thinking! And who can resist a game?
- Ask them to show you how they jump on one foot, now the other foot, do a cartwheel, donkey kick, hand stand, etc.
- Have them blow up an imaginary bubble until it pops. Do it with them, use your hands to demonstrate the bubble getting bigger and bigger until it pops- clap your hands. This helps them take deep breathes and gets them thinking.
- Have them extend their arms straight in front of them and clench their fists. Their arms and hands should be tense. (Do it with them.) Tell them to imagine there is water building up ready to explode out of their fingers. Count to five and then with a big wahooosh sound release the tension, extend the fingers, and shoot the water out. Repeat as necessary, you can do this with the legs and toes too.
- For older children, ask them math questions. “I forgot, what’s 2 plus 2? What’s 3 times 4?” etc. Try to make it funny by telling them the wrong answers, playing dumb, etc.
- Stomp the floor, slap the floor or your lap, or clap your hands in a rhythm and have them copy you.
Tips for Success
Before any of this will work, you need to get their attention. Go to their level, touch their shoulder, whisper, or do something silly or random. For example, get down to eye level, touch their shoulder, then whisper, “Hey, want to play a quick game? Go touch 3 blue things.” Or, start jumping on one foot, spin around, and then say, “I bet you can’t do that.” Or “Now you show me.”
Explain to them when they are calm about the upper brain and lower brain. Demonstrate with your hands. 1. The upstairs brain is the thinking part or your brain. This is where you make good choices. 2. Now, lift up your fingers, see your thumb? This is your downstairs brain. Your downstairs brain is where your really big feelings come from. This is where you care about people and feel love, and it is also where you feel upset and anger. It’s ok to feel upset, especially when your upstairs brain is there to help you think and control your emotions. See how your upstairs part of your brain is touching your downstairs part? It is helping the downstairs part to calm down and express your feelings. 3. Sometimes when we get really upset, we flip our lid. Raise your fingers. See how the upstairs brain is no longer touching the downstairs brain? It can’t help the downstairs brain. 4.These strategies will help engage the upstairs brain so it can help the downstairs brain calm down.
Experiment to find the best method for YOUR child. Some of these are geared toward older children and some toward younger. Most of my kids roll their eyes if I try to get them to blow up a bubble, and if my daughter is especially crazy and upset, I’m not going to give her kinetic sand to throw all over.
I have created what I call the Calm Down Box. Inside the box I have scented markers and paper, kinetic sand and a tray, glitter bottles, and an essential oil roll on. I keep it in a special spot on the counter. When I need to use it, I have the kids sit at the table. I only send them to their room if there is a safety concern and I go with them; otherwise I don’t want them isolated. I want both of us to be engaged and to talk. Sometimes I have to use multiple strategies! I like to start with the oil and then have them do something else.
What To Do Next
Once your child has calmed down, then you can begin to talk about what happened. But first, repair your relationship. Give them a hug, tell them you love them, or something else to remind them you are on the same team. Then, reason with them. Talk about what happened, discuss consequences, and don’t be hasty! Sometimes reasoning needs to wait awhile, even until the next day. If your child is still even a little bit emotional, discussing consequences may cause them to flip their lid again. And, maybe you will be the one who is still too emotional. Sometimes when I start to talk about what happened, like when my daughter took a small metal pole and started whacking our brand new car with it, I feel the anger start to build inside again. When that starts to happen, I’m the one who needs the break. Talking will have to wait until everyone is calm.
What tools do you use to help your children when they are ready to explode? Let us know! Comment below!
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10 Ways To Keep Your Cool As A Parent
And I mean real strategies you can use in the moment, not just 'take deep breathes.'