Imagine this: Your child is screaming, throwing himself on the floor, and kicking. The first words out of your mouth are ‘you need to calm down’. But a child does not know how to do that. We have to teach them.
Emotions are hard. Learning to control them takes a lot. We have to teach our children how to manage their emotions properly. And simply telling them to calm down, is not going to help. We have to teach them what that means and how to do it.
What Does ‘Calm Down’ Mean?
An adult knows what to do when someone says to calm down. We know what actions to take and how to achieve a calm state again. Doing things like taking a breath, walking away from the situation. Whatever you’ve learned works for you, you do.
But a child doesn’t know where to start or what to do.
Because kids are literal by nature, when you say ‘calm down’ to a child they will take it for exactly what it means. So what does it mean when you define ‘calm down’?
Calm – not showing or feeling nervousness, anger, or other emotions.
So when you tell a child to ‘calm down’, what they hear is ‘You are not allowed to experience or show emotion right now. You need to stop.’ Even though it’s not what you mean, it is what they will hear.
As a parent, work on teaching yourself to say something else in its place when your child is having strong emotions.
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What To Say Instead
Now that you’ve established what NOT to say, you need to figure out what TO say.
There are a lot of other ways to say ‘calm down’ without using those words. And many of those ways can teach your child what to do to calm down at the same time. Use it as a teaching opportunity and help your child learn using some of these examples:
- I see that you are upset, let me help.
- How about we sit down for a minute.
- Take a deep breath.
- It’s frustrating when things don’t work, let’s try to figure it out together.
- Can I give you a hug to help you feel better?
- Use an indoor voice.
- Tell me why you are upset.
- Try walking away for a minute.
Using some of these phrases is the first step. Replace your first instinct of saying ‘calm down’ with whatever fits for the situation with your child and you will be in a good place.
Making An Action Plan To Calm Down
Teach your child how to calm down by creating an action plan to follow. Helping to determine what feelings are and how to handle them is the hardest part of teaching your child about emotions. That way your child can be on the way to controlling their emotions on their own.
The Action Plan
- Name the feeling and acknowledge the child is experiencing it. – “I see that you are angry that the dog took his toy from you.”
- Explain what behavior you want. – “But you need to be nice to the doggie. Hitting isn’t nice.”
- Suggest a way to deal with the emotion constructively. – “Try going to get one of your toys to play with”
- Encourage open communication. – “Tell me about why you took the dog’s toy from him and why him taking it back upset you.”
- Discuss what to do in the future. – “Next time, either throw the dog’s toy for him or go get your own toy, so everyone can play.”
Being consistent with the way that you deal with your child’s emotions can help them to learn how to control their own emotions. They will begin to learn the steps to take themselves. And eventually, they won’t need you to help anymore.
Take some of these steps to learn how to help your child calm down on their own, without actually saying ‘calm down’. Let me know what works for you when your child is throwing a tantrum, and you have to help them figure out how to control their emotions.
PS. Learn about how to get started with discipline to help your child calm down at Strong Willed Children: How To Discipline Without Yelling
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