When our electronics act up, we can usually just unplug to reset them. If only our emotions were so simple.
But during moments of stress, there are still some trusty methods for kids and teens – and parents – to calm themselves down. We could all use the practice!
Connecticut Children’s pediatric psychologist Kelly Ann Maynes, PsyD, shares her favorite ideas.
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1. Label emotions.
It’s so easy to get taken under by strong emotions. But when you encourage your child to stop and name whatever it is they’re feeling – whether that’s mad, sad, scared or something else – it gives them a way to pause, and may make the emotion feel more manageable.
If your child is having a hard time labeling their feelings, help them. For example: “It looks like you’re really sad.”
2. Tune into the body.
Ask your child to notice and name the sensations in their body. Do they feel tightness or tingling anywhere, warmth or cold, pain or pressure, or anything else?
This process can be reassuring, because it validates to your child that what they’re feeling is real. It also breaks down their experience of strong emotions into something a little less overwhelming.
3. Take a few deep breaths.
Never underestimate the benefits of a few belly breaths. This can even happen in the middle of a conversation: When emotions are high, take a beat, and coach your child through three deep breaths before either of you say the next thing.
>Related: Helpful tips on taming toddler tantrums
4. Notice your surroundings.
Help your child focus on what’s around them. Can they name something they see, hear, smell, feel, or even taste?
This is called “grounding.” It’s a way to pause and reset, and then move forward.
5. Say or write a positive mantra.
Work with your child to come up with a message that makes them feel strong and reassured. It can be really simple – for example:
- I’m going to be OK.
- This is tough but I can get through it.
- This is a moment in time.
- This is a season.
- I’m doing my best.
In times of stress, your child may want to say their mantra out loud or write it out.
6. Focus on comfort items.
When your child is feeling stressed, encourage them to turn to things that soothe them: a really comfortable blanket, preferred clothes, relaxing music, a favorite book or a funny show.
It’s a great idea to make a coping toolbox with all of these items handy when your child needs them. Here’s how to create a coping toolbox for your child.
7. Take a break in a favorite space.
Create an area in your home that’s a safe space for your child to go to when they’re feeling tense or sad. It doesn’t have to be their own room; it can just be a cozy corner somewhere. Set it up with their coping toolkit and other items that put them at ease.
8. Go outside (in all kinds of weather).
One of the best ways to reset in a moment of stress is a change of scenery. That’s true in all kinds of weather – even inclement. If it’s cold, bundle up. If it’s raining, put on a raincoat. It doesn’t have to be for long. Taking a minute to get outside the home will help your child calm down, and give everyone a break from being cooped up inside.
A few more tips:
9. Practice during calm moments.
Have your child practice all of the above in non-stressful times, explaining that they can use these techniques on their own when they’re feeling upset. It will make them feel empowered and help build some “muscle memory.”
10. Trust that it’s working.
Your child may try some of these tricks when they’re stressed, and not feel much better right away. Assure them that even if they haven’t stopped their stress reaction completely, they’ve pressed on the brake, and are slowing it down. That’s a big deal! Praise their efforts, and yours. You’re helping your child build important skills for the future.
>Related: Why You Should Raise Kids with a Growth Mindset
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