Calming Strategies For Kids

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Have you ever wondered how strange it is that society doesn’t expect a child to instantly know their alphabet or be able to read without any input, but when it comes to emotions, many adults expect children to arrive with inbuilt strategies to cope when emotional overflow? 

I am sure we have all been there, getting the side eye from some stranger in the supermarket as our child struggles to understand that a 12 pack of crisps is not the best thing to eat at 9am!  

Some adults just do not understand the complexity of a child’s emotions or that toddler ‘tantrums’ are actually a result of brain development – the prefrontal cortex is simply not developed enough to handle an onslaught of emotions. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health states that our brains are not fully developed until we are in our mid-twenties! As a result, we ask a huge amount from our toddlers! 

So what can we do to help?    

The best thing we can do to help our children through these difficult emotional experiences is to accept that they are an inevitable part of life and – rather than trying to stop them – give our children a selection of strategies to help them both identify and cope with these experiences.  

Kids can learn how to self-soothe by focusing on what is happening in their body, breathing, and surroundings in the moment — that is, being mindful. Finding a state of calm is probably hard for kids now, regardless of age. Just as adults, kids can easily become lost in anxious thoughts, overwhelmed by physical feelings that come with stress. When kids are feeling anxious or stressed, they may have trouble relaxing and becoming composure.  

Here I am going to give you 5 helpful strategies you can teach to your child which will help them cope with their emotions and, if not stop them altogether, at least reduce the length and frequency of emotional overload.  

Deep Breathing Exercises

There’s a very good reason this is probably the most obvious strategy for calming down – it’s really effective! But, we can’t just tell our toddlers to ‘breath!’, right? So, here are a few strategies you can use to help:  

1.         Belly breathing: Have your child lie on their back and place their hand on their stomach. As they breathe in, their stomach should rise. As they breathe out, their stomach should fall. This helps to ensure that they are taking deep breaths and using their diaphragm correctly. 

2.         4-7-8 breathing: have your toddler breathe in for a count of four, hold their breath for a count of seven, and then breathe out for a count of eight. 

3.         Blow bubbles – a great way to breathe without realising you are doing breathing techniques! 

Guided Imagery

Children and adults alike can enjoy this great strategy! It needs to be set up in advance, so your child knows which scene they are going to visualise before they begin. You select a place that makes you feel happy, such as a favourite park, calming lake or day on the beach and visualise yourself in that location.  

You will need to train your toddler to think about things like what they can smell, what they can feel on their skin, what noises they hear. This brings the scene to life and really helps them to visualise themselves there.  

By doing this strategy, children remove themselves from the current stressful situation that has raised their emotions and instead focus on a calming environment that reduces it.  

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This is a strategy which has been gaining a lot of traction lately! It is a great way for children to identify their emotions by looking at the clues their body is giving them. For example, are their fists clenched? Are their eyes scrunched up? Do they feel hot? Or cold? Once they do this, they can begin to use their body as a calm down tool.  

Again, this is something you will need to introduce to your child when they are calm, but can be really effective in the heat of the moment!  

Here are a few examples:  

Can you push your shoulders up like a tortoise coming out of his shell?  
Flex those arms and show me some muscle! Hold for 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.  
Show me your ballerina toes! Hold for 5, swap legs.  
Show me your best angry emoji face. And now let’s shake it out!  

This strategy is also great because you can customise it to work around your child and the things they enjoy. For example, Arlo loves cars and diggers, so I might choose phrases like ‘lean down and scoop up like an excavator’ or ‘honk your horn!’ etc.  

Grounding

This technique is another way to focus a child’s attention on the space around them, rather than the thing that is making them upset. To do this, we ask them questions about the room or place they are in.  

Some questions you could ask include:  

Can you find the bird clock?  
How many cups are on the table?  
What colour is the rug?  
Can you hear that noise?  
Is it windy outside at the moment?  
What can you feel under your toes?  
Can you smell anything?  

These questions pull your child’s focus onto something else which allows their emotional boiling pot to return to a simmer. Gradually, you can begin to explore what caused their pot to boil over once they have returned to a state of calm.  

Yoga & Meditation

We have a few yoga resources inside the Little Learning Hub because yoga truly is valuable for children. Whether we look at the gross motor development benefits or the impact it has on their emotions. For this technique, we choose a yoga pose and ask our child to copy us. By doing so, they begin to focus on their body as opposed to their environment and this really helps to ground their emotions.  

Some simple yoga poses for children include:  

Easy sitting Pose 
Childs Pose 
Half lotus Pose 
Cobra Pose 
Butterfly Pose 
Tree Pose 

(If you are a Little Learning Hub member, you can find your yoga resources by clicking here).

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