Temper tantrums and monster meltdowns are frustrating as a parent, and I’ve gone through plenty of them! In my experience and research, here are some things I’ve learned to do (and not to do!) to help my kids calm down and regulate their emotions.
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Before having kids, I never knew how profusely a person could sweat from a temper tantrum. Not from throwing one, but from trying to defuse it. As most not-yet-parents do, I would watch screaming and crying kids and think those words every new parent has to eventually eat: “My kids will never act like that.”
Well, guess what? I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear my very first kid did, in fact, act like that. And I learned what it’s like to simultaneously want to jump in the nearest available hole and run away screaming.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I found myself parenting an extremely strong-willed child with crazy intense emotions I had no idea how to manage. While my first child had the occasional tantrum typical of his age, this was a whole new ball game, and I was striking out again and again. I realized I needed to expand my playbook.
As is my way, I read everything I could on the subject of managing meltdowns and calming kids.
What I’ve learned has been priceless. And I’m going to need all of it, as my third child appears to have an even stronger will and even bigger emotions. (Pray for me, please!)
My kids are certainly not perfect (that’s kind of the point), and neither am I. While their brains are still developing, they’re going to wrestle with their big emotions. And I’m not always going to respond appropriately. But I’ve learned a lot of invaluable strategies for helping them regulate those emotions that have been complete game-changers for our family.
How to Help Your Kids Calm Down
Temper tantrums and monster meltdowns are part and parcel of the parenting experience. As much as we all swore otherwise before we had kids, we all have to face them at some point. Some more than others!
Managing those meltdowns can be incredibly frustrating and stressful (not to mention embarrassing) as a parent, but the following strategies have been invaluable in helping my kids calm down and learn to regulate their own emotions.
**IMPORTANT NOTE: My kids are still young, and I am still learning and growing as a parent. I’m not claiming to be any kind of parenting or child development expert! I’m simply a mom who has learned a lot through experience and research, tried MANY different strategies and techniques, and come a long way as a mother. So, PLEASE read all of this knowing it comes from a humble heart eager to help other struggling mommas.
Let’s start with what not to do in the middle of a meltdown. When helping your kids calm down…
1. Yell at them
This never ever EVER helps. (Ask me how I know.) It only escalates the intensity of the situation. And how can we teach our kids to regulate their emotions while we’re allowing ours to get out of control?
(Full disclosure: I still sometimes lose my cool and yell at times. Which is how I know that staying calm is the best and quickest way to defuse a heated situation.)
2. Downplay or dismiss their feelings
No matter how minor, silly, or illogical the situation is, resist the urge to tell them they have nothing to be upset about. It may not seem worth getting upset about to you, but to them it is. Dismissing their feelings not only puts distance in your relationship, it teaches an emotionally unhealthy habit of stuffing feelings rather than working through them.
3. Try to reason with them in the middle of their intense emotions
In the middle of a meltdown, the amygdala (the part of the brain involved with emotions) has completely taken control. While this is happening, kids are physiologically unable to understand reason or logic, so trying to discuss behavior or consequences at this point is counterproductive.
4. Push them away
Be careful when using time-outs or other distancing measures to resolve a meltdown. Isolating kids as a punishment may get them to stop throwing a tantrum, but it is not an effective long-term strategy. Not only does it put distance between you instead of fostering connection, it does little to teach them how to manage, work through, or regulate their own emotions.
That being said, there are times I’ve had to separate a screaming child, but I do it as a boundary, not a punishment. When I do it, I calmly say, “I see you are angry, but your screaming hurts my ears. I would be happy to listen to you when your voice matches mine.” Even still, I try to do this sparingly, and only if I cannot get him/her calmed down by one of the other steps below.
5. Let them hurt you
Speaking of boundaries, while my goal is always to defuse meltdowns with love and patience, I won’t let my kids hurt me. Loving them well (and showing them how to love others well) does not mean I let them do whatever they want while they’re mad. Sometimes it involves maintaining firm boundaries around my own safety.
6. Expect what works for one kid to work for another
My middle child thrives on physical touch, so I’ve hugged and held him through most of his meltdowns. It calms him quicker than anything. My daughter, on the other hand, doesn’t want a single finger on her when she’s mad, so I’m having to find all new strategies for calming her down. Every kid is different, so don’t expect what works for one kid to work for another.
1. Stay calm!
One of THE most important things we can do when trying to calm our kids is to stay calm ourselves. As I stated above, the more emotional we are, the more emotional they get, and the situation quickly spirals out of control. The only way to reverse the spiral is for one of us to calm down. Since we’re the parents, and our brains are the ones that are fully developed, guess what? It’s our responsibility to set the tone.
Related Post: Calm Down Strategies for Moms
2. Empathize with them
Everyone, regardless of age or stage, wants to feel listened to and understood. It is amazing how quickly kids will often (though not always) calm down simply by having their feelings acknowledged. You may not always understand the cause of their big emotions (why a blue cup is better than a green cup, for example), but you can still empathize with the feelings.
3. Lead with love
Rather than immediately “cracking down” with lectures or consequences, try to connect first. Give a hug (if they’ll accept it), listen to their heart, and even consider what physical needs may need to be met. Of course, you’ll want to address the behavior at some point (more on that below), but lead with love first.
4. Give physical affection
As I said, my youngest does not want to be touched when she’s mad, so use discernment with this one. But for many kids, a hug, back rub, or other kind of comforting touch can do wonders for calming them down. And it lets them know you’re there for them and love them, even at their “worst.”
5. Be patient
You may not see immediate results from these strategies. In fact, I can almost guarantee you won’t. Managing meltdowns in a way that preserves relationships, builds connections, and teaches lifelong skills is a marathon, not a sprint. Speaking from experience, there will be MANY days you think your efforts are getting you nowhere. If you stay the course, however, you will start to notice your kids are calming down more quickly and easily.
6. Pray with/for them
Praying with my kids when they’re struggling is one of my go-to steps, for three reasons. First, the Holy Spirit is our comforter and helper, and He is the very best place to turn for help. Second, it is a way to lead with love and connect with my kids when I feel like pushing them away. Third, it models a reliance on the Holy Spirit and teaches my kids to do the same for themselves.
That being said, I realize some kids do not respond well to this. Whether because of their personality, the intensity of the moment, or some other reason, they may not be in a place to welcome you praying with them. If this is the case, you can always pray quietly and privately for them. They certainly can’t stop you!
Related post: 8 Prayers for Your Child’s Heart
Bonus: Learn about their brain development
Nothing has helped me know how to calm my kids more than learning the basics of brain science and development. Reading The Whole-Brain Child was absolutely invaluable in helping me guide my kids through their big emotions. I HIGHLY recommend it for all parents, teachers, and childcare workers of any kind.
After Your Kids Have Calmed Down
Is your child calm now? Great! I’m sure you feel a giant sense of relief. But I have to break it to you… your job’s not done yet.
The point of stopping a tantrum isn’t simply so our days can be smoother or we can look like a better parent. The point of calming our kids down is to get them to a place where their brains can once again process reason and logic.
The next step, then, is to process with them what just happened and work on developing emotional development skills. Here are some of the ways I, personally, do this with my kids:
- Walk them through what they were feeling before the meltdown and how they responded to those emotions
- Ask them how they felt after their reaction (“How did you feel after you threw that toy? Did it make your angry feelings go away?”)
- Discuss how they could have responded differently
- Talk about what they could do in the future when they feel upset (see below for ideas!)
8 Calm-Down Strategies for Kids to Try Themselves
Younger kids require more guidance through the calming process, but eventually, the goal is for kids to be able to regulate their own emotions. Here are 8 calm-down strategies you can teach your kids to use when they’re upset:
A couple of ways I make this fun with my kids is “blowing out” their fingers like candles, and doing “dragon breaths” (pretending to breathe out fire like a dragon)
- Count to 10 (or more)
This not only helps them get those deep breaths in, but it also gives them time between the trigger and their response.
- Walk away/Go to a special “happy” place
This is different from a time-out in that it’s not a punishment, but rather a strategy of removing oneself from a heated situation and taking time/space to calm down before attempting to resolve the situation.
- Cuddle with a parent or a stuffed animal/blanket
Again, that physical comfort can be soothing for many kids.
- Draw the feelings
This could be a great option if your kids are especially creative or artistic.
- Get active
There is actual brain science behind this (again, I highly recommend The Whole-Brain Child for a full explanation), but basically, movement helps “unlock” the parts of the brain involved in reason, logic, and self-control.
- Listen to music
I have found worship music to be especially helpful with my kids!
I teach my kids, both in words and by example, that we can ask God to help us calm down, take control of our emotions, and act in love towards others when we’re upset.
- The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind
- Discipline That Connects With Your Child’s Heart
- Parenting With Love & Logic
- Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting — As a Christian parent, I did not espouse everything in this book. But it was very though-provoking and provided many helpful strategies for staying calm and teaching through connection.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
- 7 Calm Down Strategies For Moms
- 10 Ways to Survive Tantrums (Without Losing Your Mind or Joy)
- My Top 10 Favorite Parenting Books
- 7 Ways to Build a Loving Family