I have spent the last 15 years teaching my children to say please and thank you, tie their shoes, button buttons, wear a helmet, look both ways before crossing the street, make pancakes, pick up their rooms, load the dishwasher, ride a bike, advocate for themselves, reach out to a friend in need, drive a car (yikes!), kick a soccer ball, and read. So much thought and energy has gone into some very active parenting. As my husband says, I sometimes over think it. Yet, through all of this I never consciously taught my children how to deal with stress, anxiousness, anger, frustration or disappointment. Yes, I have been by their side in moments of unhappiness and helped them through their emotions but I never taught them self-calming skills.
How wonderful it would be to move throughout the day with an ability to recover from anger, sadness, frustration or disappointment with relative ease. This is not to say that I don’t ever want my children to experience these very human emotions, it’s more about how well they move through it and back to a place of calm. Why didn’t I think of this until now? A few reasons; my parents never actively taught me, it was not being discussed when I was in co-op and it simply never occurred to me.
As my daughter entered her freshmen year of high school and the stress level rose I realized I had dropped the ball. Stress was boiling over and neither she nor I knew how to deal with it. Good news, it is never too late to learn. She started a teen yoga class, realized that music was her perfect outlet and started writing in a journal when she simply needed to get it all out. We tried active moments of quiet and visualization. Visualization was quickly dropped while quiet moments are a regular part of her day.
Below are a few ideas on how to teach young children self-calming skills. For additional ideas Elizabeth Crary, parent educator with North Seattle College has a wonderful resource (found online) called Self-Calming Cards. I have a deck in my bag if you ever want to take a look.
Steps for Teaching Kids How to Find a Sense of Calm
Identify Feelings: Take time throughout your day to label feelings. These can be the feelings of characters in books, movies, friends, strangers or feelings you or they are having. Review possible cues that a person is feeling happy, sad, mad, or angry. Not only can you see it on their face but internally they may have a yucky feeling in their stomach, feel warm inside, skin is hot, shaky, dizzy, skin crawling… Ask your child how he feels when he is happy, sad, frustrated, angry… This should all be done during a relaxing time of day. I would suggest in the car, at the dinner table, or while hanging out reading a book.
Role model: When you are feeling happy, sad, frustrated or angry talk it through. For example, “I am so frustrated I can’t get this jar open. My stomach feels tight and I want to yell.” Role model a calming down strategy that brings you to a place of calm.
Calming Strategy: Training the brain to respond to a calming down trigger can be very effective. Each night, at the end of your bedtime routine, lay in bed with your child for a few minutes. When she is nice and calm have her put one hand on her chest and the other on her abdomen. She can take deep breaths or breathe naturally. Lie beside her and do the same. Make this a regular part of their bedtime routine so they can master the strategy. When her frustration level starts to rise suggest she put her hand on her chest and abdomen and breath.
Parent Educator Katie Becker, writes about parenting from Seattle Washington. As a parent educator, education professional, and parent coach, Katie has been working with children and their families for over 20 years, from Detroit to Seattle. In addition to her work as Parent Educator for Woodland Park's Summer Co-op Katie runs Thrive, an independent parent coaching practice that works with parents of children 18 months to 12 years of age.