Inside: 19 tips to help your upset child calm down
My son stomped into the house. Someone upset him, and he wanted everyone to know. He slammed the door behind him.
This wasn’t my first rodeo with my overly expressive, sensitive child. I’ve tried helping him correct his behavior, I’ve tried reminding him of the rules of the house, and that we take care of the things we have including the door to this house, and that slamming it is not how our feelings can be expressed. None of it worked.
I probably could have left him be and let him calm down on his own, but this behavior is not something I want modeled for the rest of the kids. How do you correct angry behavior without consequences, pressure, or cajoling?
The thing is, my child was upset. He didn’t want a hug. He didn’t want to talk. He needed a reset.
“Wait,” I said, “Let’s have a do-over,” I added as I opened the door he just slammed.
He looked up at me and stomped out of the house. I gently closed the door behind him.
In the next second, he opened it, walked into the house and calmly closed it.
“Oh, hi sunny-boy, how are you?” I asked. This was a true do-over.
He still didn’t feel like talking, and I didn’t make him. But his body language was much calmer. We talked about what happened later in the day when he decided he was ready to talk.
How to help your upset child calm down – 19 tips that work
How do you react when your child has another meltdown, and you have no idea what to do? Sometimes all it takes is finding the one thing that works for your child. But to do that, you’ve got to try different approaches. Here is a list of things you can try to help your child calm down.
1. Stay calm
When you’re calm yourself, it’s much easier to help your child calm down. Kids’ negative behavior can get frustrating, especially if you know that they know that they shouldn’t behave this way. Before you say a word, make sure you’re calm. For tips on staying calm when you don’t want to, read How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids.
2. Offer him your undivided attention
We call this “special time with mommy” in our house. When someone is upset, I’ll say, “Looks like you need mommy.” Then I come up to the unsettled child, pick him up, and hold him. I sit on the couch and have my bigger kids have them sit in my lap. Simply holding the child and rubbing his back does the trick. Sometimes we don’t even talk.
If a child is so upset that he doesn’t want to be held, I don’t force the idea and offer other solutions.
3. Birthday candles on a pizza
This approach works best for preschoolers and young kids. Go down to your child’s level, and say, “Let’s play pretend. I’m holding a warm cheese pizza fresh out of the oven. It smells soooo good! Here, smell it!” Let your child smell the “pizza”, then say, “Ok good, now quick, blow out those birthday candles on top of the pizza!” Blow out the “candles” with your child. “Awesome, now smell the pizza again! Oh, look, we didn’t get all the candles, let’s blow on them again.” “You almost got all the candles! Now smell the pizza, and let’s give it one big blow to get that last candle!”
Breathing in through the nose and breathing out through the mouth will get the oxygen flowing through the system and will help your kiddo calm down.
4. Ask him to count to 100 as fast as he can
Counting will divert your child’s attention to something other than what upset him, and the race to 100 will help with that too. Make it into a game and set a timer to see how fast he can count to 100. If he doesn’t want to do it, you do it first and ask him if he wants to beat your score. This post contains affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase after clicking a link, I will earn a small commission, but it won’t cost you a penny more. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
5. Get him moving
Physical movement helps destress the mind. Open up your arms one above the other pretend to be the “mommy shark” and run after your child. Make it fun and sing the Baby Shark song while you chase your kiddo.
Warning: If you don’t like cute kiddie songs stuck in your head on repeat, don’t play this video. 😅
If you don’t feel like running, dance with your child. Get him moving any way you can.
6. Turn on soothing music
Turning on soothing music can help calm the whole household. You can also offer headphones to the upset child. I sometimes let my kids borrow my noise-cancelling Bose Headphones, connect them to the calmest melody I can find, and about 10 minutes later we have a calmer child.
7. Sing him a song
Does he have a favorite song? Does he often ask you to sing a particular song for him before bedtime? Sing that song for your son and hold him if he wants to be held.
8. Make him laugh
Turn your child’s frown upside down with a story or a tickle. Tell your son a funny joke, a funny story from their baby-hood, or make one up. Get him laughing, and you’ll both feel better.
9. Give him something to do
Two of my kiddos love to help. If I’m in the middle of a task and they come to me upset, I ask for their help. If I’m cleaning the kitchen floors, I’ll ask them to move the chairs for me. If I’m cooking, I’ll ask them to peel the potatoes. People are wired to serve. Some are more inclined to helping than others, but the reality is, helping someone simply feels good. When kids help someone else, their woes suddenly start looking and feeling much lighter.
10. Ask him to write a story or draw a picture
This works well for creative children. Have him write about what frustrates him, or ask him to draw out his feelings. This will not only help him express his negative emotions is a positive way, but it will also help you understand your child better.
11. Tell him it’s okay to feel upset
So often we try to suppress the negative feelings, whether our own or our children’s. The fact is, we’re made of all sorts of feelings, positive and negative alike. We need to acknowledge that feelings of any kind are okay to have, but we have to learn to express them in proper ways. Hurting things, pets, or people is not a healthy way of expressing negative emotions. Instead, tell your child he can go outside and throw a ball as far as he possibly can, or offer him a pillow to scream into.
12. Ask him to tell you how he feels
If he can’t put his emotions into words, help him. “It looks like you’re frustrated because your brother broke the lego tower you worked so hard on. Did I get it right?” You can also share what you’re feeling. “I feel sad because my little boy said mean words to his brother.”
13. Validate his feelings
Kids need to feel accepted and understood even at their “worst”. When your son shares his woes with you, try reacting with these phrases:
“That must have been tough!”
“No wonder you’re upset.”
“That would make me sad, too.”
When you validate your child’s feelings, he will feel accepted and not rejected. And that plays a big part in helping kids calm down.
14. Avoid dismissive phrases
When your child is angry about something minor, it’s so tempting to say, “It’s no big deal”, “You’ll be fine”, and “Don’t be angry”. The truth is, something that seems minor to adults is a big deal to kids. When he sees that you acknowledge and accept his feelings, he will be more ready to calm down.
15. Offer a do-over
There’s something about do-overs that kids love. As with my son in the above real-life example, do-overs can do wonders to help calm your upset child.
16. Coach him into compassion
If your child is upset because of another child, try asking questions that will help him step into the shoes of the offender. If someone was mean to your kiddo at the playground ask, “Why do you think that boy said those words? Do you think it might be because something sad happened to him? Maybe someone else hurt him earlier? Maybe he lost a pet recently and he’s upset about that?” I then ask the follow-up question, “Is it okay to hurt others when you’re hurt?” This way, even though they begin seeing that there might be a reason behind someone else’s actions, it’s important to try to make good choices even when we’re hurt.
17. Offer a calm-down spot
Have a place in your home where your child can go to calm himself. This is not isolation or time-out. You’re offering to go to a place where he can level-out his feelings. If he chooses to take you up on the offer, great. If not, look for other ways to help your child calm down.
My kids’ calm down place is under a desk in my office. We have pillows there so they can get comfortable, as well as a calm-down box full of sensory toys, see below. There is room for only one child in our calm-down nook, and we have a rule that whoever is in the nook is not to be bothered.
18. Have a calm-down box
This is a great box to have in the calm-down spot. Our box has a fidget spinner, rubber bands, a stress ball, and silly putty. Here’s a set that includes lots of destress toys kids can use.
Keep the calm-down box in a special place, reserved only for calming down.
19. Say “I love you” often
Kids need to feel loved and accepted, no matter how they behave. They need you to be that calming harbor that will always be there, no matter how big their emotions are. They need to feel your unconditional love, always.
Every child takes a different approach. All five of my kids have their own ways to calm down. If you have more than one kiddo at home, it’s highly likely that they will need different things to help regulate their big emotions. Once you try these ideas, you’ll know what works best for each one of your kids.
It’s important to remember that kids learn by example. If you want to help your upset kids learn to calm down, show them how it’s done. If they see you regulate your big emotions in healthy ways, they’ll be more likely to do the same. Do your best to be the calm, leveled adult your kids so desperately need, and enjoy the time you have with your kids.