Help Kids Calm Down

Help kids calm down ... simple parenting tips to help kids calm down when they get mad. These have really helped us with tantrums and meltdowns.

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I find I always have to take a deep breath when my daughter shouts and screams.

It’s not as if she does it all the time. But like most children she shouts sometimes if she’s angry about not getting her own way.

And sometimes when she’s frustrated with me and can’t find the words to express it.

And sometimes when she’s exhausted and struggling to move from one activity to another.

And sometimes, the red mist descends and I can’t stop shouting back.

The Red Mist Descends

All my frustrations at juggling a million things badly spill over. And the nagging fear I’m a rubbish mum because I have a shouty, screaming child bubbles up.

I snap and snarl unreasonably and instantly loathe myself for doing it. For what my daughter desperately needs is me to help her learn to calm herself down when she gets mad.

Of course, of course, she also needs to know she will never ever get what she wants from me by shouting and to get mad less in the first place

But at the same time I don’t want her to think it is completely wrong to feel angry … there are so many things in the world it is reasonable and right and important to feel angry about.

The lesson she needs … cripes the lesson I still need! … is how to handle that anger so that it doesn’t become self destructive.

So we’ve been trying out different tactics to help both of us to express our anger constructively and not to be overwhelmed by it ….

Different tactics seem to work best for different children and at different times so we’ve had to experiment a bit but have also found that they are more effective the more we practice them …

1. Offering Time Alone

I know time out works for lots of families but it hasn’t for us.

What is working much better is asking, “would you like some time on your own?”, which will help her build the skill of calmly walking away for a few minutes from situations when she feels her anger rising uncontrollably.

It’s not always what’s needed but often my daughter grabs at the invitation and takes herself off behind the curtain to “mutter” to herself as she calls it.

I’m trying to lead by example by calmly walking away rather than stalking out.

2. Do A Belly Flop

I’m such a fan of simple breathing exercises for managing emotions but they can be tricky to explain to kids, so I love this belly flop trick.

When we want to calm down we “flop” our bellies … mummy’s is big, so it’s very funny 🙂 … which automatically helps us to take nice deep breaths.

3. Silly Slow Counting

My daughter loves to count, so really enjoys silly slow counting e.g. one big smelly elephant, two big smelly elephants, three big smelly elephants.

Concentrating on the numbers distracts from the anger and automatically slows down our breathing and our heart rate and stops all the angry hormones being released.

4.Checking It’s Not a False Alarm

A classic behaviour technique is to get kids to rate how big the problem is that has made them angry or anxious and this is a really fun way to do it.

We talked about our fire alarms and how they go off because mummy is burning sausages rather than because there’s a fire and how we don’t want the fire brigade out for burnt sausages.

And then I explained feeling angry is a bit like a fire alarm and sometimes we get angry when it’s just burnt sausages and not a real fire.

If my daughter’s got mad about something small we talk about whether it’s really a fire that needs the fire brigade or whether it’s just burnt sausages.

5. Robot and Rag Doll

Tensing all your muscles up and then relaxing them all is a great way to turn off anger. And the robot and rag doll is a lovely way to introduce this to kids.

First we stiffen up like a robot and then go floppy like a rag doll. Repeating a few times and making a dance of it helps everyone laugh and relax.

Help kids calm down ... simple parenting tips to help kids calm down when they get mad. These have really helped us with tantrums and meltdowns.

46 thoughts on “Help Kids Calm Down”

    1. Thank you! It is a bit of a juggling act of finding the things that resonate best with your child and then practicing a bit … the more you use them the better they work. Do let me know how you get on.

  1. When my 4 yo gets mad, I sit on the floor, have her sit in my l and have her explain like a big girl (no whining) what is wrong, how I can help and her options. This has helped us both tremendously! I find I keep much calmer on her level than if I stand facing her…that usually leads to me getting mad too.

    1. Great point Lisa, you’re so right … it helps so much to have real eye contact at their level (I know I need to work on this) and to encourage them as much as possible even when small to always think about alternatives, it’s such a good life skill.

  2. I often have my 2 year old do a time in; he sits on my lap until he’s calm and we talk about the things he loves. He’s still a bit small for sharing our feelings conversations, but I try to empathize with him rather than get angry. I’ll have to try the silly counting …that sounds like an excellent idea.

    1. Love the idea of calling it “time in” Stacy … this was definitely a big help for us when my daughter was a bit younger. Now she’s 4 we are really trying to help her to develop ways to calm herself but don’t want her to think she can’t have some “time in” if that’s what she needs most.

    1. I find myself coming back to this one over and over again Melanie whether it’s anger, manners, mess etc … how can I expect my daughter to behave at her best if I don’t manage it myself!! But not easy heh?

  3. Fantastic ideas. I’m particularly in love with the belly flop. Humor is my secret parenting weapon. It cures all kinds of disasters.

    Have you ever tried joining them in their anger? When kids are upset (drama upset, not justified disappointment or hurt) just scream “You’re right! Everything is awful!” then sit beside them and make angry faces and huffy-puffy noises. We grumble about the sky being blue rather than rainbow sparkles and find flaws in our toenails. It always ends in belly laughs.

    1. I tried out your idea this afternoon Sheryl after a momentary wail about not being allowed cake 10 minutes before supper and it worked an absolute treat BUT why isn’t the sky rainbow sparkles – sooo should be 🙂

  4. Aaahhhh where were you when my kids were young (probably in heaven waiting your turn, lol). Terrific article and great advice. I featured you on my fb page. Thanks for linking up at Wonderful Wed. Blog Hop. Carrie, A Mother’s Shadow

  5. Isn’t so true that parents need to re-learn these things as we teach them to our kids? You think you know how to handle anger, frustration, and set backs and then wham! Your 3 year old has a tantrum and you realize how much you still have to learn…

  6. My son is going through a terrible phase right now…kind of like Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde!! I SO needed to come across this post because I am running out of ideas on how to handle him when he has his “moments!”

    1. Loved your article! Variation is the key, i think.
      My sons needs a tough rub to get the frustration out. Really squeeze and massage, often that results in what we call a ‘tickle to death’ session. Gets the energy flowing!

  7. I’ve been giving hugs and removing my toddler to a different room/environment when she gets angry or throw a tantrum but I realised I’ve just been distracting her from her intense emotion by doing that and not really teaching her to calm down. I will try time-alone, belly flop and robot/rag-doll next time she gets angry again. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Do hope they help Michelle … the robot/rag doll exercise is a great one to play and practice with toddlers when they’re not mad and it can then be easier for everyone (including mummy) to do in the heat of the tantrum.

  8. you have no idea how I’ve needed this. My 4 yo has been hitting me as an expression of her anger and it’s incredibly hard for me to tamp down my indignation at her behaviour. All I read is “stay calm” and, really, I’m wondering “how?!?!?!”.

    You’ve given me some strategies and that’s just what I needed. Thank you. And thanks to the other moms for their suggestions too!

    xox,

    A.

    1. Really hope some of these strategies help Allison. They won’t work over night but they really did help both me and my daughter build up our awareness of how we feel physically when we’re mad + to think about how big a deal it really is.

    1. They really have helped us Karen – although I know I need to get better at spotting when I am about to reach boiling point as definitely makes for calmer life, Alice x

  9. My daughter is a tantrummer, which my son never was, or rather, distraction techniques worked well with him so he never got to that thoroughly overworked point.

    Mostly what works best is allowing her to scream like mad for five minutes and then comforting her. She likes me to shush her quietly when she’s reached the point of wanting to stop but not knowing how.

    Unfortunately, sometimes we don;t have the time or the space for that, so I will certainly try out some of these. Lots of new ideas here!

    The silly counting, because she does enjoy counting at the moment and I am just beginning to get some success with getting her to sing too, so we might be entering the zone of distraction working. I like the belly flop idea too, and the robot and rag doll.

    Anyway, thanks!

    1. Do so hope they can help. Can be very very lonely when you get into those spirals of everyone getting mad and just not being able to calm down xx

  10. This is a great post – I’ve been seeing the rage a wee bit recently and I’ve been thinking I really need to do some reading up on keeping calm techniques!! This is really helpful xx

    Thanks for linking up to #TheList xx

    1. It’s so hard for them when they’ve got all these thoughts and ideas brimming over and they don’t have the language or are just too tired to express them and then once in meltdown so hard for them to calm themselves but these have really helped us xx

  11. Good ideas! THANK YOU.
    My mother told me that “civilized people don’t get angry.” Oh, dear! You can imagine the problems THAT caused!
    It was my 3rd very demonstrative child that taught me about anger. The soccer field was center stage for her outbursts when she was little. That earned her a red card. Then she learned to rein it in until she got to the sidelines, still raging and yelling. Finally, she could hold it until she got to the car with me after the game.
    What I learned about her anger was that she only needed the time and space to let it out and once that was done, it was back to rational thought – amazingly rational thought.
    I don’t have to yell, swear, thrash around the way she did, but I have to indulge my outrage somehow. Anger is GOOD! You just can’t hurt yourself or anybody else with it. Another important point: sometimes an emotion that looks like anger, is not anger. It can be fear. Frustration. Jealousy. Or all those common things like fatigue, hunger, illness…. Anger is good, and so are all your other emotions. You just have to learn how to interpret them and then fix what is upsetting your apple cart.
    My daughter is in her 30s now and the Creative Director for a fashion company in NYC. She still has her fits, usually on the phone with me but without the thrashing and yelling and with much less swearing! And she is still on the soccer field; now she’s coaching inner city kids.
    Have faith! Everybody survives, usually most awesomely!

  12. There is a huge 23 years difference between my youngest daughter and my now 5year old son. Many things have changed. What has always worked for me and my kids is when mad we have the mad pad I ask the kids draw for me how mad they are. I always get huge angry faces from my son. That angry. How about now how angry are you next thing you know his angry dark scribble face becomes happy faces and I always act surprisedthat’s not an angry face and always the answer is the same I’m happy again.

  13. With my 5 y/o, I find that I need to physically connect with her (ie; big hugs when she’s out of control angry).

    Then, I have noticed that we can’t talk things over until she’s moved past the anger, then past the tears…talking has to come after these two.

  14. Great post. I’ve been working on just this issue with my son. Breathing works great, but hard to explain to him how to do, especially in a heated moment. Can I ask more about what you mean about “flop our bellies”? I’m not sure I understand what you are doing and how to teach my son what to do. Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Amanda – we found it helpful to practice the breathing when we weren’t stressed as a sort of mini yoga exercise. the thing that helped most was my daughter seeing and feeling my tummy going in and out 🙂 To flop our bellies we just bend over from the middle when standing up and let all our top halfs, tummies, arms, head etc flop down. Hope that makes sense and that the tips help x

  15. I’ve used the silly counting technique three times in the last 2 days and it’s worked wonderfully! Thanks for a great article.

  16. Funnily enough, we are going through a bit of a phase where my son gets very cross, doesn’t listen and responds back very badly. He will say things like “don’t talk to me like that” or “why do you always shout at me” when I haven’t even started. He is 4 with a 1 year old, younger sibling which has changed the whole balance of powers and attention for him. He is not mean to his little brother at all, but i wonder if sometimes he is trying to hold back, a lot towards him. He has also just finished his nursery and might be going through an emotional period but doesn’t know how to express it. When he shouts I do sometimes shout back, which puts him off for a while but it is not a good example, so i don’t like doing it.
    So we will try your techniques, the belly flop, robot and rag doll, ‘time alone’ definitely works for him. It is good to have an array of tool that we can make use of at different times. The most embarrassing though is when is misbehaves at grandparents’ house… i will definitely need some tool to face these situations.
    But i do come from a different upbringing where if your parents tell you to do something, you do it and don’t discuss. And you keep quiet when they tell you off. It worked in our time. Laura

  17. What a fabulous post! You are so right about letting the red mist fade before trying to problem solve. Love the idea of the robot and rag doll, I’ll definitely remember that one xx

  18. Thank you!

    Only today I’ve felt like banging my head to bits at my three-year-old’s shouting and hitting. These techniques sound very helpful, especially as he loves numbers and counting.

    Quiet time on his bed should also help. I’m sure I’ll get a chnace to try most of these out.

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