Calming Your Child

Parents frequently have difficulties when their child’s emotions escalate, for example when their child becomes very angry, frightened or sad over something seemingly insignificant. Parents often report that their child’s emotional reaction will trigger an emotional reaction in them. For example parents will often feel anxious, frustrated or embarrassed with intense emotional displays coming from their child. This will usually lead to a negative cycle where the emotions in both parent and child will continue to escalate: the child’s initial emotional outburst will trigger an emotional outburst in the parent, which will then result in the child becoming even more emotional.

In order to break this negative cycle, an important skill for parents to learn is to remain calm and emotionally grounded in the face of their child’s emotional outbursts. This is easier said than done!! This is a skill that requires commitment, perseverance, and ongoing practice by parents. It requires you as a parent to learn ways to manage your own emotional reactions.

One of the first steps is for parents to develop their own emotional or feelings vocabularies. Many adults are completely unaware of the range of emotions or feelings that we all are able to experience. Making a list of as many emotions/feelings you can think of can be very helpful. It is also helpful to divide them up into various related categories. You will notice some feelings are comfortable and some feelings are uncomfortable. Just remember all feelings are valid and are neither good nor bad. It is the behaviors that are associated with feelings that can be classified as good or bad. For example, you can feel angry, but you can choose how to behave when you are angry: you can choose to stay quiet and think about how to solve the problem, or you can shout and say hurtful things (that you may regret saying later).

The next step is to start identifying a range of feelings that come up for you every day. Also, it is very important to notice carefully how your body feels as various feelings come up over the day. Does your face flush? Do you get tingly hands, butterflies in your stomach, tension around your head or jaw. Does your breathing increase or become very slow and shallow? Do you lose concentration? Do you perspire more? Does your heart rate increase? Just notice these sensations. And notice that these sensations, along with your feelings associated with the sensations, will pass over time.

Another important step is to engage in activities that will help your body to get into a calm state. Recent research has found that there are many ways that we can learn to be more aware of our emotions and feelings and to be able to train our brains and bodies to reach a state of calm awareness, which is our body’s natural healthy state of being. The following list provides a few ideas of these activities (Please note: you can add to this list):

The end result is that when your child’s emotions escalate, as a parent, you can help your child to calm and soothe by staying in a calm state yourself from the work you have done with yourself on your own emotions and feelings. When parents use their own calm state of mind to calm their child, it is called “co-regulation,” and it is a VERY powerful way that parents can help their child learn to manage emotions.

The important thing to remember here is that if you are reacting in an emotional manner to your child’s emotional reaction, your child will continue to react emotionally as well.

Copyright Kathy Eugster, 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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Kathy Eugster, MA, RCC, CPT-S

MA, Counselling Psychology
Registered Clinical Counsellor
Certified Play Therapist – Supervisor
Child and Family Therapist

Kathy Eugster