Oh, Just Calm Down

by Julie on August 15, 2011

There are moments for even the most patient of parents, when we utter those words in exasperation: Calm down! Sometimes we are trying to get an over-active child to stop swinging from the chandelier; other times we are encouraging an upset child to relax and be more reasonable. Whatever our reasons, the result we are looking for is the same: a calm, rational child who exercises an abundance of self-regulation.

Do you hear “self-regulation” batted around in conversation with teachers and therapists? When you talk with other parents, they may talk about self-control. We all need it to be functional in families, in school, and in society. Do we need to be teaching these skills explicitly or do kids learn self-regulation naturally? Yes and no. Some of us learn these skills as we go about navigating the challenges of daily life. But for kids with developmental delays, social difficulties, language disorders, or emotional challenges explicit instruction and practice are necessary. 

Let’s start with breathing. Telling a child to take a few deep breaths to calm down may have limited effectiveness. Lots of kids don’t really have the body awareness to do this like an adult or adolescent. Instead try blowing tasks.

  • Fill a basin or sink 1/3 of the way with water. Squirt in dish soap. Give the child a straw and challenge her to fill the basin with bubbles. You can also do this with a large cup. Yes, this is exactly what you were yelled at for doing with your milk at the dinner table 25 years ago.
  • Blow bubbles. If going outside isn’t an option, go to the shower. Put a target on the wall or floor and track the bubbles as they land. Crayola now makes colored bubbles and I have to say that despite their messiness, they are pretty cool.
  • Sing with your child. I mean belt out the tunes. Loudly. It requires deep breathing and definitely changes the tone of the situation.
  • Yoga, anyone? Gaiam has a kids series. The poses are easy to learn and deep breathing is emphasized throughout.
  • Tear up a tissue like confetti. Place it on the end of a table. Encourage the student to blow through a straw to send all the pieces off the opposite end of the table. This requires deep breathing, but also control to get the bits and pieces to the goal.
Parents may adopt these strategies at home. Many of the excellent teachers we consult with already incorporate these activities into their classrooms. When children are calm, they are able to focus on learning. If you have effective strategies to help kids with emotional regulation, we want to hear about it. Our community is growing. It’s time to share the wisdom.
For more information about self-regulation, check out these links:

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