Every parent or caregiver has been there—it might happen in the toy aisle, the grocery store, or during a playdate that’s gone on a little too long. However it happens, you might find yourself with a frustrated, overwhelmed, or overtired child who just can’t calm down.
When it comes to parenting with confidence, being prepared with healthy calming strategies for kids can help you understand what your child is feeling, give them some tools to express and address their emotions, and help you stay cool in the moment. To guide you along this path to calm, we’ll talk about why outbursts happen and provide some effective calming activities for kids.
Why Is My Child Struggling to Calm Down?
There are many reasons why a child might have an outburst or struggle to calm down. It can take some time for kids to learn how to deal with big, strong emotions when they happen—and when other factors enter the mix, your child may simply not know why they’re feeling this way or what to do about it.1
When your child is having difficulty calming down on their own, you can start by aiming to understand what feelings they’re experiencing. This could include:
- Stress – Stress can come from many sources, including school, family conflict, or changes in routine. If your child is under stress, they may need extra support in acknowledging and safely handling their anxiety and emotions.
- Difficulty expressing their feelings – Children of any age can have trouble finding the right words to express what they’re feeling, which can lead to frustration.
- Hunger or tiredness – When kids are experiencing physical feelings like hunger or tiredness, dealing with emotions can become harder. As you talk about a child’s feelings with them, leave some space for them to talk about how their body feels, too.
While the examples above illustrate why a child may be struggling to calm down, it’s important to recognize that children have different levels of cognitive and emotional development. This means it may be more challenging or take more time for some kids to process their emotions.
These and many other reasons—like not getting what they want, having a part of their day change unexpectedly, or struggling with any combination of these factors—can make it hard for your child to balance their feelings. When these feelings all pile up on one another, they can lead to outbursts they simply can’t contain.
Outbursts like this aren’t bad or wrong, and they can even be a normal part of learning to handle big feelings. But there are steps you can take to help your child feel heard and cope with their emotions.
6 Ways to Help Your Child Calm Down
To help calm your child, start from a place of understanding. Take a breath and reflect on why your child is behaving the way they are. Ask yourself questions like, “What is my child feeling on the inside?” to help understand and empathize with their emotions.
Once you’ve recognized the situation, you can take steps to help your child (and you) process t. Let’s look at six of our favorite calming techniques for kids.
#1 Validate Their Emotions
While you may want to calm your child quickly, avoid sending the message that their feelings are wrong, bad, or shameful. Their emotions are welcome, even if they need some help with expressing them.
Try comments like:
- “You’re showing me how angry you are.”
- “This is really disappointing for you, huh.”
- “It’s okay to be madabout this.”
Using positive language in statements like these can help demonstrate that you empathize with your child’s feelings.
#2 Encourage Deep Breathing
Deep breathing exercises are a physical way to help a child calm down and feel more in control of their body and emotions.2 You can guide your child through this easy deep-breathing exercise:
- Take in a slow, deep breath while counting to four.
- Exhale slowly on another count to four.
- Count for your child along with each breath to help them focus.
You might also notice that your child uses deep breaths as a way to try to calm themselves without you even suggesting it. Here, you can take the opportunity to encourage this by saying something like, “I like how you’re taking deep breaths. Let’s both do that again,” and continuing until you both can breathe easily enough to talk through what happened.
#3 Practice Movement
Getting the body moving can help release muscle tension, pent-up energy, and frustration—another technique you might notice your child trying on their own. If you’re in a good location to do so, try encouraging your child to safely bounce, jump, or stomp as a way of expressing their feelings.
These types of activities can help your child connect to their senses and can help them to release big emotions out into the world. Trying a physical activity like jumping, stomping, and bouncing can be especially effective.3
If these physical activities don’t work for your child or their abilities, you can try any adaptations involving movement—like pounding a fist, shaking your head, or even using their voice instead.
#4 Squeeze Something Tight
Squeezing is another sensory way to activate your joints and muscles and send calming feelings to the brain. Your child can practice squeezing clay, a stress ball, a pillow, a stuffed animal, or even just their own fists.
Similar to the deep breathing exercise, you can guide your child through this by:
- Encouraging your child to hold on tight for a count of ten.
- Asking them to release, exhale, and shake out their fingers.
- Repeating a few times or as long as your child finds it helpful.
#5 Try a Simple Yoga Pose
Yoga can promote calmness by combining muscle movements with deep breathing. Research on yoga practice in children has shown that it can help with anxiety and feelings of stress.4
If your child is physically able, encourage them to try a yoga pose called “downward dog.” This is a safe and simple pose for kids to learn quickly:
- Start on all fours like a cat, with your hands flat on the floor and your knees and toes on the ground.
- Exhale and push the hips up into the air, straightening the legs and arms.
- Hold the pose for a count of three breaths, then go back to all fours.
- Repeat the pose as many times as needed.
Of course, there are many other yoga poses you can do, depending on your child’s abilities and what they want to try. You can experiment with different poses to find one that works for you and your child.
#6 Use a Mindfulness Activity
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment with openness and curiosity.5 This can be a way to help your child notice and observe the emotions and physical feelings they’re experiencing.
Encourage your child to try one of these easy mindfulness and stress response techniques:
- Focusing on the feeling of their belly moving as they breathe. They can do this by placing a hand on their belly to feel it moving in and out with their breath.
- Walking very slowly around the room you’re in while focusing on each part of their foot and leg as they move.
- Closing their eyes and naming everything they can feel, smell, or hear at this moment.
When it comes to practicing mindfulness, Yeti can be a great tool to help kids get started. Yeti’s books are all about noticing the senses, regulating emotions, and helping children utilize positive affirmations in their daily lives.
Help Your Child Build Emotional Strength with Slumberkins
It’s normal for children to feel upset or angry at times. One of the most helpful things you can do as a caregiver is to teach your child how to recognize and accept their emotions without judgment or fear. You can also practice these calming strategies outside of big feelings as they provide great stepping stones for regulating emotions at any level.
If you’re not sure how to help your child learn about their emotions and how to process and express them in a healthy way, Slumberkins can help. Whether you’re helping them learn about sharing toys or trying different turn-taking games, two scenarios that can potentially trigger feelings of frustration, we have the resources for you.
Our books on connection and emotional support stuffed animal collection can help teach children that their emotions are always okay, and our affirmations curriculum can help caregivers model healthy parenting behaviors and emotional expression every day.
- Miller, Caroline. "How to help children calm down." Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/how-to-help-children-calm-down/
- "Breathe in, breathe out: Kid-friendly calming techniques for stressful situations." Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. 1 December, 2017. https://www.chrichmond.org/blog/breathe-in-breathe-out-kid-friendly-calming-techniques-for-stressful-situations
- Lin, Chien-Lin et al. “Effectiveness of sensory processing strategies on activity level in inclusive preschool classrooms.” Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment vol. 8 (2012): 475-81. doi:10.2147/NDT.S37146
- "Socio-emotional well-being benefits of yoga for atypically developing children." Journal of Research in Special Education Needs. https://doi.org/10.1111/1471-3802.12556
- Crescentini, Cristiano et al. “Mindfulness-Oriented Meditation for Primary School Children: Effects on Attention and Psychological Well-Being.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 7 805. 7 Jun. 2016, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00805